Windows 8 Revisited

February 8, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 2 Comments

Back in the day, I wrote an article on Windows 8 and decided to avoid this Windows version. Many others did the same. It was designed for touch devices and I’m still very much a desktop keyboard & mouse power user. I’m used to multitasking various system intensive programs like PhotoShop, optical disc burning, and so forth. My tablet (Android) mostly gathers dust, though would see more use for reading had I the time. It’s also great for photo albums and other causal uses.

Recently however, the laptop I got for grad school has been running hot, a little burdened by years of long days. Windows 7 is now being phased out and is just getting security fixes. Windows 10 is yet to come (later this year). Other OS’s would require a major investment in time and money to shift to. And in the meantime, some of the tech authors who balked at Windows 8 originally have gradually shifted to it themselves. Especially with some of the fixes of v8.1.

Key to a reasonably happy transition is a few key changes. On a non-touch device you want to default to the desktop. And you want a Start menu to get at stuff in familiar ways.

There are several Start menu replacement programs out there that shift the startup to the desktop. Well recommended is the $5 Stardock Start8. I decided on the free Classic Shell as it has a few specific features I like, like a File Explorer toolbar. Both allow lots of customization to taste with several style options. For really simple, you can just r-click the Taskbar/ Properties/ Navigation tab and select to default to the Desktop. But I think you’ll find the Start menu useful unless you use very few programs.

Then there’s just a few small adaptations, like finding “Charms” where a lot of settings are found – the top right corner of the screen or by pressing Win-C. Win-X brings up a power users menu, with access to many back end settings. Win-F brings up Search.

Windows 8 starts Much faster than Win7. Add in an SSD (solid state) for a boot drive (recommended) and the difference is astonishing. Install your programs on the boot drive and keep all your bulky data on a second traditional hard drive. This is how I’ve organized things for years anyway – separating programs from data. As I’ve discussed prior, it makes backup much simpler – image the boot drive, file copy the data for easy access if the system ever goes down. This is backup that works in real world scenarios.

The Modern/Metro Apps will also tend to drive power users crazy, again partly because they’re touch-designed. For example, there’s no close button – you have to click and hold the top edge and drag it to the bottom. On a large screen this is excessive compared to a click. And who needs a calculator that fills a large screen? What if you want to see the spreadsheet at the same time, without splitting the screen? You can also click in the top left corner to switch back to the desktop but this leaves the app running – handy only if you want to go back and forth. Back to the top left and right click to close it. Clicking a program on the taskbar is easier.

In many cases you’ll want full versions of desktop software, not MS apps. So you’ll want a PDF viewer, an image viewer, a calculator, and so on. Lame when these have been built into Windows for many years but MS apps are not built for mousing and big screens.

Win8 requires you use a Microsoft Account for initial login. Because it uses this for on-line services like Skydrive and app purchases, it should have a long, complex password. But for routine login people will tend to use something easier to remember, sacrificing their on-line security. There is however alternatives, like using a Local Account (scroll down to the Local Account section). You’ll still need to occasionally connect on-line but can then use a password manager to handle the complex password for you. This does mean creating a new User and making all the settings, etc. so you want to do this sooner rather than later.

Another privacy issue is internal computer searches going on-line. In Charms/ Settings/ Change PC Settings/ Search and Apps/ Search: Turn the “Get search suggestions and Web results from Bing” off.

Another gotcha is the Skype app – it wants to convert your Skype account to your system Microsoft account. They offer no choice. Annoying if you use Skype on multiple systems and don’t want it tied to one. Like Local Account above, this is a privacy issue. This is a widespread industry trend of account merging. It makes it simpler for end users but vastly increases user tracking and personal security & privacy vulnerabilities.

I later installed Skype for Desktop and it worked with my old account just fine. And all the features I’m used to were back, unlike the dumbed-down app.

I also found I needed to change the Theme colour as the windows all seemed to merge together and it wasn’t clear what to select. The 3D edges are gone. After years using Win7, there’s a lot of tweaks and settings in a lot of software to migrate. I didn’t find the “Easy Transfer” software very useful.

I am finding it much faster than Windows 7, partly due to a faster system and partly Windows 8. There’s lots of small things I quite like and other things that are annoying or dumbed down. But at least I have a current OS, for now.
David

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  1. The Metro then Modern Apps were renamed Universal Apps and now Microsoft Apps – probably the worst name of all. They are neither Universal nor do they operate on all MS devices. They are simplified apps designed to work in a touch environment only. They’re not applications in the way people normally think of them (desktop).

    I’ve also since discovered there is a close button for these apps, but its on a hidden menu bar that you have to mouse over to get. Then you see an orange X, top right. And boy can they make a mess of your windows if you open one on the desktop.

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  2. I’m also now using Win8 on a tablet where the above apps are much more at home. But I discovered a nasty gotcha. If you’re using a local account and go to the MS Store for more apps, it asks you to give your password again, then asks for your MS login (fair enough) but then wants to convert your local account to your MS account. No choice.

    You cannot download MS Apps from a local account. If you instead change to your MS Account user and go in that way, you can download new apps. But they Only are available to your MS user account. In other words, to use MS Store apps, you have to use only your MS user account. You local account is useless.

    My solution? Install the desktop apps I was familiar with and the Start menu. I find many of the default apps hobbled and annoying anyway. But way to chase away a possible Store customer, Microsoft.

    All this advertising about how much better you are than Google about tracking and you do this? Gotta log in to Microsoft if you wanna play solitaire…

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