When I first decided to upgrade my personal and corporate PCs to the release preview of Windows 8, I knew I would essentially be starting over with my PCs. While offering both a fresh install and upgrade route, the release preview upgrade is not as straightforward as it may seem. While maintaining your basic Windows settings and personal files, it does not actually save any of your applications. This means you will need to reinstall any applications you need once you upgrade (Note: the upgrade process does back up the physical files in case you need them; this could take up gigabytes worth of valuable hard drive space, so beware).
For those who are unaware, Microsoft has announced that when upgrading from earlier versions of Windows (pre Vista SP1), only personal files will be saved. So, if you have been holding out with Windows XP for the past few years, be prepared for a much bigger upgrade effort when the final package is released. Speaking of the upgrade process – one of my PCs is running a Solid State drive as the primary drive with a normal SATA hard drive or secondary use/storage. I had to delete a lot of files on the SSD drive to reach the mandatory 20GB free to begin the installation process.
Installing Windows 8
The install process of Windows 8 is more streamlined and speedier than ever before. Both my upgrade and full install tool under 20 minutes to complete. Compare this to the full hour plus it takes to install Windows XP on the same hardware, and you come to appreciate the improvements Microsoft has made to their installer over the years. As a comparison, my recent upgrade to OSX Mountain Lion (10.8) took roughly 30 minutes. I won’t bore you with details of the install, but it compares with Windows 7 respective to guidance through setup steps. One thing I have always appreciated about new OS installs is that they come pre-loaded with most of the necessary drivers for the latest hardware. I didn’t have to worry about any network drivers for my Wi-Fi adapters, graphic cards, or sound devices.
My first goal was to assure I had AV protection and could connect to my corporate network, both of which proved a bit troublesome. Symantec Endpoint Protection (AV Client) is not currently compatible with Windows 8, and would not even install. Cisco Systems VPN Client installed, but would not connect to my corporate VPN. The later was solved with a quick search on the Internet and a minor registry hack. The former had no workarounds, but a quick search again online showed the AVG anti-virus was compatible with Windows 8, so I installed that as a stop gap. I had similar issues as an early tester of Windows 7, so neither of these surprised me.
Touching base with the OS interface
Once I felt I had the basics covered, it was time to try out the new Windows interface. My first hour or so with the OS was confusing to say the least. As a seasoned Windows user, I still find myself getting confused when trying to do the simplest tasks in Windows 8. This has certainly improved over the past couple weeks, but the transition for the average user won’t be without its hiccups. I actually suspect that the more advanced Windows users will encounter more problems than basic users. The fact is that many of the common workflows have been altered. They are still there, the only thing that has changed is the way they are accessed. The Start Menu replacement (formerly known as ‘Metro’) is by far the biggest change (Note: Microsoft recently announced they are searching for a new name for the Metro interface as a result of some name litigation they encountered in Germany; for now, I will refer to it as the ‘tiled’ interface).
Applications are presented as individual tiles in UI mode. It’s possible to conduct your entire Windows Experience in this “tiled” interface, although you’ll be hard-pressed to do so if you want to access any of your legacy applications. You’ll notice right off the bat that there is a tile to switch to Windows Desktop mode. Once clicked, you will be shown the familiar site of a Windows desktop, sans traditional start button on the lower left. Switching between the two interfaces is done by moving your mouse to the lower left corner, where a mini popup of the tiled start interface will pop up for you to see. When you click it, you are returned to that new tiled interface.
Break before turning Corners
Speaking of corners, the corners of your desktop become very important to navigating Windows 8. As previously mentioned, moving your mouse to the lower left corner of your display presents you with a popup to switch between the Tiled Mode and traditional desktop mode. The upper left corner allows you to see recent apps and switch between them. Finally, the upper and lower right corners provide access to a fly-out style menu with options for searching, accessing settings, and some other common links (things that in Windows 7 you would have accessed via the Start Menu).
The biggest annoyance I have this corner system is that I consistently find myself activating these popup and fly-out menus when I am navigating around the desktop (such as trying to close an application or browser window). While a quick flick of the mouse cursor gets rid of these popups, it’s still a bit annoying when you didn’t mean for it to happen. These are the types of things that wouldn’t happen on a touch screen interface; it’s evident that Microsoft has designed the navigation aspect with touch screens in mind. Despite these minor issues, the UI is completely navigable with a mouse, and once you do things a few times, it starts becoming ‘almost’ second nature.
In summary, getting set up with Windows 8 is a fairly easy process. You are going to encounter application compatibility issues, but this is to be expected with any new major OS upgrade. The true challenge lies in learning the new OS. Learning how to use a MAC after years of being a PC only user had a huge learning curve. Switching from Windows XP/Vista/7 to Windows 8 was not nearly as difficult. I did however recall the feeling of not knowing what to do next when trying to accomplish tasks that once seemed second nature.