Who's afraid of Windows 8(.1)?

Windows 8 has attracted a lot of criticism. Anecdotally it seems that even non-technical home computer users are wary of upgrading their computer, because it would mean having to buy one with Windows 8 pre-installed.

Linux

Up until recently I’ve had the luxury of viewing the Windows 8 debacle from a distance. My preferred operating system for many years has been Linux. For those who don’t know of Linux, it is open source and generally free to obtain and use. As well as being free it is also highly secure. It was the ability to run a computer without virus scanning software constantly slowing it down that first attracted me to Linux.

I have found Linux a great choice of operating system for a web developer, in part because the web also runs largely on open source software.

The downside to Linux

But for me there is one downside to running Linux as my main desktop system. Linux is generally not supported by computer and hardware manufacturers. This means that when a new computer arrives on the market, packed to the fan vents with new technology, there’s a fair chance that Linux may not be able to take advantage of all the latest features. That is, at least until the open source community develops the various bits of software that will allow the new hardware to play nicely with Linux.

This has become even more complicated as most new PCs now come with a secure booting facility, which can make it difficult or impossible to install Linux on them.

The decision to try Windows 8

In the past, when faced with having to buy a new PC, I generally chose one that included fairly basic components and that had been on the market for some time. The reason for this was to ensure maximum compatibility with Linux. Recently I was in the position of having to buy a new PC. Given the new secure boot complications, this time I decided to buy one with all the latest bells and whistles, knowing that Linux may not be able to make best use of the latest features, and might not even run at all. And that would mean having to live with Windows 8!

I’m not a total newbie when I comes to Windows 8. I had a laptop which ran Windows 7 - an operating system that I found capable and pleasant enought to use. (But not enough to make me change from Linux to Windows 7 on my main desktop.) I upgraded that laptop to Windows 8. That experience was enough to tell me that there was no way I would be happy to use Windows 8 for my day-to-day computing needs. But then Microsoft released the free upgrade to Windows 8.1. Many reviewers found that this update overcame a number of the shortcomings of Windows 8 as a desktop environment. I ended up buying a computer with Windows 8 (which I upgraded to 8.1 immediately!), and I’ve been running it as my main desktop now for a couple of months.

The Windows 8.1 experience

So how am I finding it?

Well, I’m actually quite enjoying it! There’s a few reasons for this.

  • It’s nice to use a computer where everything has been designed to work with the operating system. No having to search the obscure reaches of the internet to find out how to make some components on the new computer work with Linux, or having to do without some functions altogether.
  • With the upgrade to 8.1 it is possible to configure the computer to work very much as Windows 7 did. You can pretty much avoid the new touch interface, if that’s what you want. (And that is what most desktop users want!) Planned updates to Windows 8.1 look set to improve this further.
  • Most of the programs I was using on Linux now also work on Windows 8 so I haven’t had to buy or learn anything new. (I havent even felt the need to run Linux as a dual-boot option, or within a virtual machine, as yet!)
  • There seems to be all sorts of minor improvements to the operating system, even compared to Windows 7, that make it more intuitive and pleasant to use.
  • The new integrated virus scanning software seems less obtrusive than the third-party security programs that once were a necessity.
  • The new touch environment apps, while still small in number, and with limited functions, are appealing for their simplicity. I could actually see myself growing to like them. In fact, when the app ecosystem becomes more mature I might even consider a Windows 8-based tablet!

I still think Linux provides a great desktop experience but for now Windows 8.1 suits me fine!

Published: Wednesday, 26 March 2014