Windows 8: Prophecies of Doom

I could just say it’s Vista all over again and end it here, but then I’d be misunderstood, because what I mean by that, is not that 8 is shaping up to be as unpopular as Vista seemed to be (although it very well might go that route, but that is another matter), but that it is criticized for all the wrong reasons too.

All the “rage” seems to be focused on and around Metro (although this term is somehow outdated, or so I read) being added and kinda replacing the classic start menu, but after using the final version of Windows 8 for roughly a month now, I have won the impression that this is really misplaced – mostly. Metro is just one screen that can contain (Metro-) “apps” and links to normal x86/x64 software (as far as the typical user-interaction is concerned). Typing anything immediately starts an incremental search like the Windows 7 start menu already did. So there is only limited contact with it necessary to begin with. It took me like 2 days to get used to it… The vast rest of Windows didn’t change much, or not at all (again, only talking usability here). ~2 places now use (Office-) ribbons (Windows Explorer) instead of menus. There is surprisingly little that justifies all the dislike (of 8 because of Metro). Of all the things that I would critique Windows 8 for, Metro is only ranked very very low on that list. I only share the opinion that it was ridiculous to remove the start menu no matter what, when it was still available until a certain preview version came out. It was only this one guy who demanded it. The folder structure for the start menu is even still there (\Users\”user”\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu), so they didn’t even pull off a clean removal…

What Windows 8 should be critiqued for, but as usual certainly won’t (not in the mass media at least), are features like “Windows SmartScreen”, which transmits data back to Microsoft, concerning every piece of software a user chooses to install, IF the user shouldn’t disable this feature himself (already possible during installation). The official purpose of this is, to prevent users from installing all types of stuff MS might consider “bad”. So I don’t know if users are really too stupid/lazy to decide what software to install, or if they are just attempting to justify their methods by implying this. It’s obvious that they are gonna data-mine the shit out of these files Windows installations around the globe will start sending them, because only a minority will make the effort of a mouse click to disable this. And since they have the IP addresses too, better be a good little user and not install anything “illegitimate”, OR ELSE! :P

The next thing that kinda stinks, is the not so subtle approach to make everyone go get a Microsoft account (everything will be tied to an email address like most digital stores handle it for years now, think e.g. Steam/Origin/GOG). The former, classic user account is still available (I’m honestly wondering if Windows 9 will still have it), but it needs to be activated manually during the install. Again, many users never will make the effort of making an extra mouse click and just comply by signing on. One of the things that rub me the wrong way here, is that every Windows 8 installation (doesn’t matter if Microsoft account or legacy account) comes with a bunch of Metro apps, who will work without any flaw on a legacy account. But despite that fact – should the user ever uninstall any of them and later reconsider, it will not be possible to re-install those, without having a MS account, because the new Windows Store still won’t work without one. It doesn’t matter if the apps are free and already worked perfectly before. Sign up or this stuff will be kept from you. Maybe not that big of a deal, once most Metro apps are uninstalled, never to be used again, but it’s a nice example of how restrictive the nature of all this stuff is. It’s not a baseless concern, when some developers see this as a path which can only lead to making an end to the PC as the open platform it usually was. It’s bad enough that smartphones usually are jails that are supposed to do their manufacturer’s bidding first and the actual user comes in second place.

Google is often described as this mega-data-collector (which they are, of course), which (of course) stops no one from using every single one of their services every day, they can connect shitloads of potentially delicate info every user creates/leaves behind on the net, that’s, however, where their influence stops. Doing whatever locally still escapes their gaze. This is where the MS account comes into play again, because other than a potential Google account, this might capture all kinds of local activity too, taking such data into account for the very first time. After all, lots of the new Windows 8 features (SkyDrive, […]) only work this way. It’s all dead on legacy accounts (unless they are converted – that is possible, naturally).

Although I’m a Steam user since 2004 (what, have you never seen a hypocrite before?) such digital shops have always left me with an uneasy feeling. Apart from their obvious DRM, they tend to create monopolies, which are only good for them. Just ponder a few seconds on the fact that Mass Effect 2 DLCs still cost the same amount of money they did 2 years ago, while the game (that is also available from countless retailers) is everywhere for only a few bucks and why that might be… The list goes on and on. Companies also restrict access to those stores (by lots of rules and/or fees that need to be paid in order to be allowed any access), not everyone can sell content there. Given the almost monopolistic position of some of these stores, being denied access can mean financial ruin for smaller companies. Just look at the importance of Steam for smaller developers and how devastating it can be, if their games aren’t on this platform. Even if something doesn’t sell at all, the developers still will have to pay all their fees (a version of “the house always wins”). Having these circumstances spread to all Windows installations by default, is a whole new level. And some might even only criticize 8 because they don’t like the new competition with their own digital stores…

Overall however, I must say, I like Windows 8 (so far all the negative things I described can be disabled or avoided altogether – just like annoyances in earlier versions). The stability and reliability of the platform hasn’t changed (perhaps the most important feature of an OS to me), I didn’t witness any “crashes” worth mentioning, like in Windows 7 (and Vista and XP before them). But the main reason, I never even considered going back to 7, would have to be the speed. I’m using 8 on the same PC I had 7 installed on and pretty much everything is a bit quicker. I’m not just talking about booting (quite frankly I never understood why there’s so much importance ascribed to the length of the booting process – I do that like once a day, so…). I don’t even have an SSD, let alone UEFI (even without this Windows 8 boots up in a time span hardly worth mentioning). The whole OS seems to respond faster. But I haven’t exactly measured it, so the advantage might be smaller than I think. Also, it’s not like 7 was slow. Apart from all that it’s just the same old Windows again. The sole improved part I can think of, that is impossible to overlook, is the Task Manager. The new one is much much better than the classic default (using Sysinternals’ Process Explorer can still make sense though).

What’s a little weird (at first) is that Aero is gone, given how big of a deal it was supposed to be once. Removed just like that. Some people feel like 8 looks older than its predecessor because of that, I can’t say I really care. There is no more transparency, but I’ll live. A positive side-effect is that some software that always disabled Aero before starting, now feels like it’s more compatible to 8, since that step no longer exists. If there is a software that worked on 7 but makes problems on 8, I haven’t encountered it yet. Everything I’ve seen continues to work as it has for a very long time now.

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