Windows 8 1st impressions
As the title of this blog post implies, I recently upgraded my computer to Windows 8. There are many things I like about it, but there are also present many issues that I find incredibly frustrating. It took me some getting used to, but at this point I can say that I feel confident navigating the interface.
One of the important factors that aided my ability to work my way around the new OS is the hot corners feature. I’m not quite sure whether or not they’re called that in Windows 8, but hot corners is a feature that I first remember on my 2007 Macbook running OS X Tiger. On the Mac, you could move your mouse to one of the corners to initiate certain functions. You could set a corner to show the desktop, another to initiate Dashboard (which was/is a multitasking feature), and another to open the widgets pane.
I think hot corners was a good feature, very useful at the time to get to places much quicker than you could on Windows. I know that on touch devices, the corners aren’t what are used but instead the left and right sides of the touch screen. Now, in Windows 8, we use hot corners for practically the same reason. Still, no matter the method, this functionality is used to do similar things as the Mac in Windows 8: multitasking; switching to the start screen menu; and opening the charms menu, a contextually sensitive menu allowing users to view app settings, search, share, or send the content to devices. Once I figured out how to use these as I should, it became a lot less irksome to test drive Microsoft’s latest Windows installment.
Windows 8 is obviously built for touch. It’s navigable with a mouse, but I really feel like the best experience with Windows 8 will be with a touch-enabled tablet or notebook/hybrid. The reason I don’t include desktops is that it may be physically tiresome to reach 2+ feet to reach a large monitor on a desk. I don’t have any proof since my monitor isn’t touch-enabled, but I cannot really foresee the possibility of my arm not tiring after a few minutes of reaching to the monitor. If anything, I opine that desktop monitors with touch will only be used as a supplement to a mouse or touch pad. It may depend on the desktop set-up in question, but I suspect my expectations to be mostly true. I’ll have to test out a touch pad when I can afford a quality one.
Windows 8 is an attractive OS. It’s very colorful, and ‘metro’ apps all share a standard design sensibility that is nice to see. Right clicking in an app gives contextual menus at the bottom of the screen, while application search and settings are all handled by the charms bar. The live tiles are similar to those on Windows Phone, giving updates, notifications, and live information as necessary, depending on the application in question. Since there’s more room on Windows 8 devices than on smartphones, they actually provide more information than on Windows Phone.
My tentative Start Screen
Having a Windows Store allows us to have a single place to go to find applications. While I never thought that going to a developer’s Web site to download programs was a particularly painful experience, having a standard place that is easily searchable adds a lot that I didn’t know was missing. Right now the application situation is about the same as you might expect it to be for a new OS, but it will get where it needs to be shortly. Plus, only Windows 8, you can still run legacy applications in desktop mode. Those types of programs can’t be downloaded from the Windows Store, but Microsoft does provide links to the developer’s own Web page so that they can be downloaded from there. That still provides an advantage of the single, searchable place to meet our application needs.
Windows Store main page
The primary fault I find with Windows 8 that there seems to be a lack of options. I’ve found that several times I’ve wanted to do something that I simply couldn’t figure out a way to do. Maybe there are methods, but they were neither readily apparent, nor did they present themselves after a modest amount of searching on the issue. In the Xbox video app, I downloaded on the ‘New on Xbox Video’ videos, but couldn’t find a way to check on their download progress, cancel the download, or subscribe to that channel to download videos automatically in the future. Well, I did finally manage figure out a way to cancel the download, but it happened accidentally when I closed the app. You would think there would be a background downloader to handle these sorts of things, no? I remember my Xbox 360 being way more open to giving information than this application.
There are also usability issues I’ve encountered, too. For example, several times I got stuck in the “me” section of the People Hub without a way to get back to the main page of the app. The only option that remained was to close the app and reopen it. After some time, I discovered that I could right click to reach the home link, but that didn’t occur to me the first couple of days. I also downloaded the Skype app and tried to add a friend as a contact that I already had on messenger. After doing that, I had two contacts in my Skype list. I couldn’t find a way to link them like I can do on Windows Phone. After a couple of days and reinstalling the Skype app, it appears to have linked that contact automatically in the People Hub, but in the Skype app itself the Messenger contact appears separate from the Skype contact. Additionally, when I go to the People Hub and choose a contact to message through Messenger, it takes me to the Skype app instead of the Messaging app like it did beforehand. It also doesn’t appear to let me message through Messenger after doing this, but rather it wants me to pay to send a Skype SMS or something. To top it off, it puts these weird characters before the email address of the person I’m wanting to message. Here’s an example:
Screenshot of my Skype Issue
Metro Internet explorer seems to lack a lot of options, although generally the experience is positive. You can’t order tabs or have multiple windows in use. Having many tabs open can very much diminish the amount of real estate dedicated to the Web page while you’ve got the app UI toggled. In order to bring up the app UI, you have to right click. Some Web sites don’t allow right clicking, which can cause issues with managing to toggle the UI. Perhaps there is a hotkey for this, but if so I’ve yet to find it. This same problem occurred as well when I opened a YouTube video in a new window. I couldn’t click anywhere to open the app UI to close that tab because the video filled the entire screen. Internet explorer also seems a little slow, and some Web sites don’t appear to work as properly as they should with it. Not only that, but IE doesn’t seem to always open Web pages on the first attempt. Several times I’ve had to refresh the page at least once to cause the Web site to display. I thought at first that it may have something to do with streaming through Xbox Music—since my internet speed isn’t very fast—but it also happened when I was listening to locally stored music. It’s a huge issue in my opinion since Internet Explorer is the default browser in Windows 8.
Sample Internet Explorer Windows/Tabs
Xbox Music is very complicated to use. It’s not always easy to tell which music is in the “cloud” and which isn’t. Over time it appears as more and more albums were accompanied by a cloud icon next to them, so it seems to take significant time for them to be added to the cloud. But what cloud? These songs aren’t in my SkyDrive. It must be a service similar to iTunes Match, where these are songs that I can listen to on another device sans ads without having to store it locally on that device. I suppose for albums that aren’t on Xbox music, we’ll still have to upload them to SkyDrive if we want to put them into the cloud. Allowing Xbox Music to pull metadata from the Internet also causes a lot of issues with respect to music organization. I just ended up turning it off.
Xbox Music allows streaming music supported by ads from nearly the entire Xbox Music collection on Windows 8 and Windows RT. I say nearly since there are some artists—such as Led Zeppelin—whose music you may purchase but not use through streaming or the Xbox Music Pass. An issue, however, is that sometimes those ads don’t load when I’m outside of the app, and I have to go back into the app for the ad to play. Other times it seems to work fine. Just now, actually, when I was writing this in Word in the desktop, the music player stopped because I was streaming music. Apparently, it won’t stream music when I’m in the desktop, but it appears to play locally-hosted files without cause for concern. Not very consistent.
That brings up an issue pervasive throughout the entire metro interface. If I’m viewing a video in a browser window, through Hulu for instance, I can’t go into another app and still hear the video being played so I would know when to return. This is especially applicable to ads that you want to “tab out of” until your show returns. I’m aware there is a snap feature to attach the browser window to a side of the screen while I’m in another app, but that’s annoying to do each and every time there’s an ad break.
The People app looks to have similar problems as other third party Facebook clients, in that some users can choose to not share information, such as photos and status updates, to the app. I believe this used to be an issue with Windows Phone, but it was fixed so that everything was shared to the People Hub app on Windows Phone as though it were a first-party application. I can view certain status updates by friends on my phone and on the Web site, but when go to those same users’ profiles in the People Hub on Windows 8, there are neither status updates nor photos available to peruse.
In general, I like Windows 8, but I would like more functionality restored. While I don’t have a touchpad, I have a suspicion that the OS would be easier to navigate with one. That’ll be a purchase I intend to make whenever I have enough disposable income to pick one up, since they tend to come in a bit pricey. I did more complaining in this post than praising, but you can always find more to complain about than praise, right? I’m overall fairly happy, but Windows 8 still needs some work. There were rumors that say that Windows 8 was rushed out the door, and I would say that they certainly have a case.
My Windows 8 Desktop