Windows 8 Review

 

System:

  • Lenovo ThinkPad SL510
  • Windows 8 Professional
  • Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2ghz
  • 2gb RAM
  • Intel GMA 4500HD Graphics
  • 250gb HDD

The brand new instalment of Windows, the infamous Windows 8, it is the latest upgrade from Microsoft and it’s getting mixed opinions, particularly from hardcore Windows desktop users. Microsoft have fused their desktop OS with their tablet platform, but is it a fusion that can work together or just something that’ll kill the desktop experience? Leaving folks to stick by their guns, like many did on the release of Windows Vista, which was later saved by the knight in shining armour, Windows 7. How does Windows 8 step up? There’s certainly a lot of criticism, people who are afraid that Windows 8 might be too much of a closed system where desktop gamers may be shut off or maybe put aside for simple, flashy, casual touchscreen games like Angry Birds. Maybe Linux, the open source platform, will mark the way for the future for some geeks? When you got Linux distributions like Ubuntu out there and with the progress the Linux platform has made over the years it’s certainly much more user friendly and with the right interest it would make an interesting avenue.

Or is Windows 8 a step in the right direction for the Windows platform? Tablets aren’t the only thing with touchscreens, we’ve got all-in-ones, laptops and even monitors with the technology. Not ideal for a game of Call of Duty, but where does the mouse play in all of this? It is actually better than it looks. It was my main concern, PCs don’t have Magic Mouse nor do they have Magic Trackpads and the trackpads that do use gestures aren’t necessarily any good, so it wouldn’t seem like something MS could get away with. But actually, they’ve managed to take care of the mouse and with time to experiment with the new OS and work it in I’ve found that it’s not only ergonomic but also intuitive. You have to let go of any previous expectations, which might be hard for some. Why fix what’s not broken? Said people will probably find it hard to adjust, yes, they could probably learn it without really looking at a manual, but Windows has used the same interface for so long that I’m sure many feel it’s daft to change.

Interface

Windows 8’s interface isn’t that difficult to get your head around, you need to do some experimentation but I found myself not needing to resort to reading a manual. I’m not a manual reader, I like to play, if it explodes in my face then I know that I’m doing something wrong. To get your head around it be sure to move your mouse to the corners of your screen and also utilise your right mouse button. If you move your mouse to the top of the screen you’ll notice you cursor turns to a hand, now this is one of the cool features of Windows 8, it allows you to drag your screen, and it can be a metro app or your actual desktop and you can dock it to the side. What’s the point of this? It’s actually really convenient. It is kind of like docking your windows, but on your desktop it’s not always convenient and if say, you’re switching between multiple windows you might find that they overlap or you’re not making the most of your space. With this dock you might have Netflix running whilst you’re doing work or have a messenger up or maybe OneNote running.

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That’s just one nice little feature I found when playing with the interface.

The actual Metro panels you see on the start menu, they’re really convenient for putting your own shortcuts up and you can organise them in the best way you see fit. I think of it as like having Stardock Fences just without the labels and having as much space to cover as you wish.

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As you can see here I’ve split these panels up, so you’ve got media, games and then office.

But I feel that improvements could be made to the interface, the main inconvenience I would say is ‘All Apps’, which might not be a problem if you’re not running lots of desktop apps, but if you’re like me you might be. ‘All Apps’ is like ‘All Programs’ in other Windows operating systems and it does section them out by folder BUT there are no sub folders and you can’t collapse them, so you may end up with this mess:

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My ‘The Game Creators’ folder not only contains all of my product purchased from TGC but also all of the help files and examples I could normally access from All Programs. In previous versions it worked because there were subfolders and they were collapsible. However, this inconvenience is lessened by the fact the interface is really responsive and you can move through it very quickly and you do have an advantage with your Metro panels.

System

There are some news things to note about Windows 8’s system features, for example you’ll be prompted to associate a Hotmail/Windows Live account with your login in details and it comes with some benefits (particularly on the social media side of things), but it’s not mandatory.

The task manager has had a face lift and there are a couple of changes there, for example, you’ve got a section for Metro apps and also information listed in task manager is clearer. And like wise control panel is much the same as before and on the desktop there’s no real differences between how use the directory in Windows 8 and Windows 7. In the file directories you do get these tabs on your folders, but there are no major changes in how it works there. People used to Windows’ directory structure will have nothing to worry about.

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There is something new and that is a metro panel for ‘PC Settings’, which you can see below.

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They’re additional settings you change on your PC without going through the control panel route – I suppose it’s kind of like changing the settings on your iPad or a similar touch device. But there is one setting in there that’s particularly interesting and that’s “Refresh your PC without affecting your files”, which can be found under the ‘General’ tab. I tried this feature to start Windows 8 Pro as though it were a fresh installation – I wanted to have default settings and remove all my programs (which are cluttered and take up a lot of space) but retain all of my personal files. This feature did exactly that. It was something I never could do in a previous Windows OS and I can see advantages to it and would be a nice alternative to System Restore, though you do still have that option should you need it.

Apps

Apps are the big craze at the moment, an open market and the must-have for casual computer users and the big familiar thing for tablet and smartphone users. Now you have the App experience in your very own Windows, which sounds fun to some and may make others groan. As a hobbyist game programmer? It looks like an opportunity. As a consumer? It’s a convenience; there are some cool metro apps that I can have running alongside my desktop, like OneNote as I’ve already shown and also having the Windows App Store makes it easy to find useful little applications you may want to use and there’s room for gaming too, which doesn’t just have to be casual games like Angry Birds, though they are popular amongst casual gamers but Indie game makers could think of it as an opportunity. But could it replace services like Steam? Which has been a haven for AAA and Indie titles alike. At the moment, I would say not, it’s very much like any app store on a touch device and what you find on there is much the same and likewise, these are designed for touch interfaces, yet mouse friendly. So don’t expect to find the latest Assassin’s Creed in there. There is a fun strategy game in there called ‘Armed’, which shows what kind of games could be developed for the App store.

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Other apps are there for convenience, but nothing really out of the ordinary. I’ve downloaded a Cookbook app because I like cooking and I’ve got Netflix too, heck, I could watch Netflix whilst cooking with a feature I mentioned previously.

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Desktop Programs

I’ve found my desktop applications to run quite nicely so far. It is really easy to switch between desktop and Metro, I know people are afraid of the desktop dying with the new interface but actually the desktop still feels very much a part of the operating system. I know people will miss the start button but the important thing is, you don’t HAVE to use metro if you don’t want to. If you’ve got all of your desktop applications installed, you’ve got the short cuts and you can just go ahead and use your computer like before, just with the exception of you not having a start menu as essentially Metro is a glorified start menu. There’s compatibility with your old applications and as you’ve probably noticed from above screenshots I am running Microsoft Office 2010 just fine in it. There are applications that’d still benefit from using a desktop rather than resorting to the ‘App’ interface. I don’t think 3D artists would find 3D Studio Max suddenly becoming an ‘app’ convenient and likewise, I don’t think programmers would like to see Visual Studio follow in that same style. Hence MS has left the desktop in, there’s no reason to fear for its death. It’s still very much a part of the operating system and isn’t a piece of furniture or something that was just left in to win over cynics. I’d say it is still a necessity in the OS.

Also, where would I be without Steam?

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Gaming & Old Games

Gaming is not all Angry Birds on Windows 8. It’s still perfectly viable to play any games intended for a dedicated gamer, hence Steam in the above shot. As far as I can see there have been no performance drops on my system, but I’ve only tried a limited list of games. My Windows 8 laptop isn’t a gaming laptop, but I do play games on it, so I can’t sit here and demonstrate Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but I’ve found World of Warcraft to work just fine, which is about the limit for my current set up.

For me, my main concern has been for retro-gaming. I love old games and I still play them. Now, I’ve got quite a few to test and there’s no point me sitting here testing everything for you because that’s very time consuming and would make the review a lot bigger than it already is. It has been suggested that if it runs on Windows 7 then there’s a good chance it’ll run on Windows 8 as Windows 8 is still backwards compatible. So I tested one of my favourite games of all time and a game that I’ve tested on Windows operating systems since XP. That game is Final Fantasy VIII.

Now for a bit of history, this game was designed for Windows 95/98 and old graphics cards, back in the days of 3DFX and Matrox. In Windows XP it ran fine, in Vista it required tweaking before it’d even run and a patch to fix glitches, in 7 it required a patch to fix the same glitches, which were very noticeable. In Windows 8? It runs straight after install with no tweaks…and graphical glitches? Well you tell me.

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There are graphical glitches in there if you look closely enough, but they’re very minor and barely noticeable. I could try a patch, but I don’t think I need to.

Okay, let’s try something a little different. I can try Age of Empires III, which was released at the end of the XP days and is a little more graphics intensive than FFVIII. I found that it ran in Vista and 7 and I can compare the performance in 7 and 8 as I’ve ran it on 7 on this machine before. In Windows 8 the game runs perfectly fine and with no noticeable slow downs and I’d say the performance is about the same between the 2 OS’s.

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Dark Basic Pro

Does Dark Basic Pro work? This is an important question for anybody reading this blog from the TGC community.

The answer is…yes.

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I installed it directly from the Dark Game Studio disk, installed Direct X and then booted it up, typed in basic code and boom! It compiles. How well do the samples work? They work as they should, or at least I’ve not encountered any problems there.

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Conclusion

Overall, there isn’t anything to be scared about. Windows 8 is a fully functional and stable Windows operating system and it’s compatible with old software. It’s fast and it’s fluid, many folks worry about the new interface but once you get used to it then you can see that actually, it’s well done. I was expecting people to be right and to find that making this punt would end up being a bad decision, but actually, I am satisfied that I made the upgrade. It’s not a perfect OS, there’s certainly things MS could improve upon, but then that’s always the case. Metro isn’t the big doom and gloom it’s made out to be, though it may not be everybody’s cup of tea and it is something you need to have an open mind for. Some may stay with Windows 7, which is fine because Windows 7 is a great OS and you don’t have to upgrade, so some folks may be happy staying put. There’s certainly benefits to upgrading and it is a good OS and I don’t think MS have cocked this one up…unlike Windows Vista. I never really had any real bugs with Vista, but it was horribly bloated…8 on the other hand, it runs really smoothly. At the time of writing this review, Windows 8 was on offer for a good price. I paid £24.99 to go from 7 Pro to 8 Pro and it was worth it. I would have paid more too, but I am also a cheap skate and like to get things when I can get a good deal on them. Either way, I think it’s worth the money to upgrade.

Verdict? 9 out of 10. It loses a mark for how ‘All Apps’ is laid out and killing the start menu on the desktop.

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