Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
I recently upgraded my primary desktop machine to Windows 8. I did so with some trepidation after hearing many complaints. My reaction: what's all the fuss about?
During my recent two-month sabbatical, I took the opportunity to do a few things that I'd been putting off.
One of those things was to upgrade my main machine - a nearly five-year-old, quad-core desktop with eight gigabytes of RAM - to Windows 8. Not a dual boot. Not a "try it in a virtual machine." No, this was a commitment. I did this with the intent to completely commit to Windows 8 moving forward and suffer through whatever it is that I'd been hearing of from people for the previous few months.
I was deeply disappointed.
Not by Windows 8. With only a couple of exceptions, it's been great.
Instead, I'm disappointed by all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that I've been hearing from readers and in the tech press.
If you're good with Windows 7, then you can be just fine with Windows 8. Mostly because, Windows 8 essentially is Windows 7.
I can hear heads exploding already. Let me explain.
I started my process by completely disregarding what I've long held as a standard piece1 of advice when moving from one version of Windows to another: do a clean install.
I did an actual in-place upgrade of the Windows 7 Pro. Yep, I totally understand that reformatting and starting from scratch is a royal pain. I'm probably worse than most in having lots and lots of different applications and utilities and other what-nots installed and customized on my machine - especially the one that I use every day. I didn't relish the thought of having to reinstall and reconfigure everything again.
I also wanted to tempt fate. In a sense, I wanted to experience the worse-case scenario so that I could see just how bad it might be and hopefully gain a better understanding of why people were complaining.
It was not to be.
It. Just. Worked.
In fact, it was one of the smoothest upgrades that I'd ever done. After the upgrade, my machine rebooted and I was looking at a Windows 8 that looked amazingly like the Windows 7 that preceded it.
What tends to freak people out the most about Windows 8 is the tiled Start screen. My machine bypasses that on boot and lands directly on the desktop.
Here's what a common Windows 7 desktop looks like:
And here's what a Windows 8 desktop looks like as I have it running:
(Full disclosure: That's not my actual desktop, but a virtual machine configured the same way.)
They look pretty similar, don't they? All I did is install exactly one free program that I've discussed before: Classic Shell.
Now, you can argue all day about whether Microsoft should have made a traditional Start menu an option in Windows 8 or not, but the fact is that they did not. As a result, Classic Shell (and several other similar programs) solve the problem quickly and for free.
In my case, I had already installed Classic Shell in Windows 7 as part of my earlier evaluation and elected to leave it there. Like almost everything else on the machine, it survived the upgrade and worked. The tiled Start screen appeared for a moment and then was replaced by a very familiar desktop, complete with my prior customizations.
Seriously, running Windows 8 with Classic Shell is pretty darned close to running Windows 7.
That's not to say that there weren't any issues. Here's what I did encounter:
The Display Link software that supports my three-monitor setup "disappeared" after a while. I never really bothered to find out why or how, because after a while, I rebooted the machine and it began working. I suspect that it was updated at some point by Windows Update to work with Windows 8.
My backup software, Macrium Reflect, required that I reenter the product key before it would work.
My old HP Color Laser Jet 2600n network printer reports an error after every print, even though the print actually succeeds. Fortunately, trying to be as paperless as possible, I don't print often these days.
My long favorite ftp software,
WebDrive, failed; the version I was running didn't support Windows 8. A
$60 $32 upgrade would, but my reliance on the software has declined over the
years. For now, I opted for FileZilla, another free ftp/sftp solution.
Not only is my long-time favorite virtual machine software, Parallels Workstation, not supported on Windows 8, but it turns out to be completely discontinued on Windows. (Parallels is focusing on their "run Windows on your Mac" product and their higher-end server offerings.) This ended up being the single biggest expenditure of time, as I converted several virtual machines over to Oracle's VM VirtualBox.
After close to two months of normal usage, that's honestly it. Everything else, including all of my other "major" applications like Microsoft Office, Photoshop, even World of Warcraft, worked fine.
Heck, a few things surprised me by just working! For example, the keyboard macro software that I use, Auto Hotkey, Classic Shell (as I mentioned above), and my system's sound support2 which is often a cause of problems for folks.
With a fair amount of Windows 8 experience under my belt, the recommendation I've been making for some time doesn't actually change much:
As good as it is, I've not found a truly compelling reason to upgrade from Windows 7. If you have Windows 7 and you're happy, I wouldn't yet bother to upgrade.
On the other hand, if you have a tablet/touch screen computer, then Windows 8 is absolutely the way to go.
If you get a new machine and it comes with Windows 8 pre-installed, DON'T PANIC. Instead:
I'll have more on it in a future article, but if you're using Windows 8 on a traditional desktop or laptop, I also recommend that you avoid using the apps that are part of the tiled Start screen as much as possible. Instead, use the ones that you find on your traditional desktop. There are a few gotchas - for example, the tiled Internet Explorer isn't quite the same as the Internet Explorer launched from the desktop (ditto for Skype, Kindle Reader, and probably several others). Unless you're actually on a tablet - and perhaps even a smaller one at that - the desktop applications are probably preferable and less confusing when making the transition.
So with all that being my experience so far, I have to say: I just don't get it.
I just don't understand the Windows 8 haters. The single biggest objection - the tiled Start menu - is so easily dealt with that I have a hard time understanding where all the vitriol comes from... although I fully expect folks to try to educate me in the comments below .
1: One piece of advice that I did follow was to perform a full image backup before the upgrade. You just never know. If the worst happened, I could relatively quickly reset my machine to its un-upgraded state.
2: Doubly surprising because this isn't a national name brand machine, but rather one from a local vendor.
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