Windows 8: the good, the bad and the ugly

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Windows 8 will be hitting the shelves very soon. Just few days ago, the Windows team announced in their blog that customers could now pre-order the Next Big OS from Microsoft.   For a year we’ve been hearing about Win8’s innovative Metro interface. There’s even a new “Windows to Go” – a lite version of Windows 8 – which runs on anything that can boot a USB drive.

Windows 8: the good, the bad and the ugly 1

Despite the official hype, startlingly negative reviews of the pre-release version are popping up all over the web. ZD-Net called it “the worst Windows to date”. Infoworld calls it “Windows Frankenstein“.

Most of us already know the biggest features of Windows 8, so let’s have a look at this new kid.

 

1)    Speed:  Microsoft ALWAYs tell us it’s latest Windows is going to boot up faster than the previous one (and usually fails – Windows XP, anyone?). This time around, PCmag and ZDnet benchmarks prove that Win8 boots up and shuts down faster. In practical run, it feels marginally faster. Speed improvements are only seconds “here and there”, so it’s not that much of an improvement. Not all of us run i7’s.

2)    Security: Microsoft has built some serious guns into the OS this time around – but is it enough?. Windows defender is built-in, and it’s much better than Windows 7 Defender. It’s still nowhere near as good as the likes of Kaspersky and Bitdefender, so don’t get excited. Windows’ most prominent security lies in booting, with the OS verifying drivers as they are loaded.
However, the hackers over at Passcape have already found a serious flaw in Windows 8’s security. Once you’ve created an account, you can opt to use Win8’s new picture-password and pin-based logins. However, the original user password is available in plain-text and any user with Administrator access can get it with a little bit of effort. Windows Explorer and other portions of Windows also store passwords in Window’s 8’s Vault – if something breaches it, say goodbye to your security.

Below: screenshot decrypting passwords for users with PIN or picture logins.

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3)    Modern UI (previously Metro). The most hyped, most unique part of Windows 8. Large tiles, colorful backgrounds – Microsoft has jumped directly into smartphone territory with this one. When you start your computer (or hit the Windows key), you get a Start Screen, something that looks like the desktop version of an iOS / Android menu. Installed applications show up as tiles. On a touch interface, you can swiftly drag stuff around into groups. The menus scroll well. The lock screen is minimalistic and displays notifications – battery life, appointments, the whole nine yards.

It’s superb. On a touchscreen, that is.

On a desktop with the standard mouse + keyboard combo, it feels downright weird. Firstly, it’s not the Windows we’ve known since Win95. No start button. The programs are on the Start screen (which literally is a screen, so switching to it and loading up other apps is a pain). The “Charm bar” holds the other stuff – Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings. It’s not as odd as the name: it allows you to search the web without opening your browser, and Share lets you send stuff to all your services – Facebook, Twitter – at the touch of a button.

Nevertheless, a Windows user expects to be able to run programs easily, not stare at an interface. While not terrible, the interface is a complete departure from the Windows workflow the entire world has grown accustomed to: it’s disorienting. You’ll need to learn a lot of keyboard shortcuts to use it productively. Technically you can do it all with the mouse, but practically it doesn’t work as well as the hype says.   

4)    The Apps, drivers and other services. Like all news OS’es, Windows 8 will have teething issues. That’s to be expected. When Windows 7 came out most of us struggled to get drivers and programs running on it, and now we’re perfectly fine. The Apps seem a bit problematic. Windows 8 uses a brand-new runtime, which adds support for HTML5 as well. However, retail versions are only able to install these Apps through Windows Store. Wonder how long it’ll take for someone to crack this system.
On the plus side, this new Windows is fully integrated with online services. Like already mentioned the Share functionality on the desktop itself. You can also login to Windows with your Microsoft account (formerly Windows Live ID). This allows your user profile and setting to be synced over the Internet, no matter which computer you use. And viola: Xbox Live integration.

The verdict: Windows 8 is good on tabs (whether they’ll come to Sri Lanka or not is a different matter). If you’re a desktop gamer, stay away from Windows 8 until all the drivers are available. If you multitask a lot, run a lot of office apps… still, no. If you really want the full Windows 8 experience, either get one of the new Dell Windows 8 Ultrabooks or invest in an external touchpad like the one Logitech just put out.  It looks like Sri Lanka is going to be using Windows 7 for quite some time yet. Windows 8 is no “Mistake Edition”, but it gives no real reason for desktop users to switch to it.

Windows 8: it’s Microsoft’s most polarizing OS yet. 

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