Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Surprise! Windows 8 doesn't suck as much as I expected.

It's heresy, I  know.

I've used Windows for a while, usually grudgingly, and I'll admit: I've been a hater. I won't bore you with a laundry list of  objections I've had over the years.  "The triumph of marketing over technology," sums up my feelings.

After sticking with Windows XP's bubble gum look and feel (it puts a whole new spin on "gooey interface") I finally made the jump to Windows 7, after skipping the over-hyped and under-performing Vista, and thought it was....not bad.

Being an IT geek I of course had to try out the new Windows 8 prereleases, featuring the new Metro Interface.

I thought: this sucks.

But a funny thing happened. I picked up a copy of Windows 8 on the cheap (for a while you could snag a legit copy from Microsoft for $15 if you knew how to game the system) and installed it on a new Zotac ZBOX microcomputer that doubles as a video server.

There are several add-ons one can install that bring back the Start Menu, allowing you avoid the Metro interface, if you choose. I'm using a freebie called StartMenu8 but there are others, both free and purchasable.

Lo and behold - once you can deal with Windows 8 without Metro, it's not all that bad.  I'd be willing to bet that in some future Service Pack, Microsoft quietly introduces a feature that allows people to toggle the old-style Start Menu on or off.

Curiously enough, IObit, makers of StartMenu8, also make a free product called WinMetro, that emulates/enables the Metro interface for Windows 7, Vista and Windows XP.  ...It's a funny old world.

Since hooking my ZBOX to my television to stream stuff, I've found Metro actually makes a reasonably good 10 foot interface. All you have to do is install an air mouse server on the PC and an air mouse app on your iPhone or Android device. Logitech has a free version of server and app for iPhone, as does WifiMouse (for iPhone and Android).

Once I managed to avoid Metro, I found Windows 8 to be a pretty good product.  The Window Manager is clean, and ditches the curves of Vista/Win7 in favor of a more squared off, less transparent look. A lot of the underlying system tools like Task Manager and the copy utility are redesigned to give more information. There is a feature called Storage Spaces (which I have not actually used) that sounds like a repackaging of the old Windows Home Server Drive Extender, that  allows combining smaller drives to pooled and/or redundant storage.

Just to give time to the other side, the Free Software Foundation is running a media campaign called UpgradeFromWindows8.com, to promote free operating systems like Linux. While I love Linux (I'm running Ubuntu on my main studio box), I gotta say, Windows 8 is the least awful version of Windows I've used in a while - once it's been tweaked.

Close Windows, Open Doors

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