I can still remember the bitter taste of Windows Vista. The highly-anticipated successor to the legendary Windows XP turned out to be a major dud, despite several fancy new features. Windows Aero and the Sidebar looked cool but contributed to the woeful speed of most computers running Vista. Ultimately, the cons outweighed its pros, and users would have been better off keeping Windows XP.
After almost two weeks of using Windows 8, I believe it suffers a similar problem: its new features do not substantially improve upon the Windows 7 experience.
At the heart of Windows 8 is the new Metro user interface, analogous to the Windows Phone Modern Style UI. These two UIs make use of colored tiles that represent applications, providing quick access to important tasks. While the design is elegant and fluid, the Metro UI can be fully appreciated only on touch-capable computers.
Unfortunately, most desktop — or even laptop — computer owners do not enjoy the luxuries of touchscreens. Using a mouse to navigate through the Metro Start Screen can be cumbersome and redundant, making one wish Windows 8 just loaded to the traditional desktop. Those who do not feel up to the task of acclimating to Metro can rest easy, though, knowing they can mostly avoid the new UI once they reach the desktop interface.
Windows 8 is faster than Windows 7 in almost all respects, and boot times are way down. But if Windows 8 is simply a faster version of Windows 7 with a novel Start Screen, why should one go through the trouble of upgrading? Is it worth it?
Some new features of Windows 8 are useful, such as the new Windows Explorer and added security, but much remains the same. In the desktop interface, program icons appear as usual while Metro apps don’t appear. Actually, one of the more troublesome features is the new location of the “Shut down” button under the Settings charm — shutting down is so much easier in Windows 7 than in 8.
It seems clear to me that upgrading to from Windows 7 to 8 at a price of $40 is not worth it. For those of us who use computers mainly for work/school-related purposes, the new schizophrenic operating system can cause too much unnecessary confusion.
Simplicity in the computer world is prized, but not when it comes at the expense of practical functionality. Forcing traditional computer systems to conform to a new standard applied to mobile devices — touch-capability and integration of apps — does not make sense, considering that the two platforms serve different purposes. Our new app-centered culture might just be dumbing down the PC, making it more difficult to perform rich and complex tasks.
But if you want to give Windows 8 a try yourself, Virginia Tech provides a free download of the new OS at network.software.vt.edu.