Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Windows 8 Initial Impressions

Shortly before Christmas, I installed Windows 8 on the compact Sony PC in our lounge (known as 'the biscuit tin').

My primary motivation for this was to give me a test machine for games and KitBase (scale model database). A few people have started asking about Windows 8. As it turns out, both work OK (except for a driver-caused bug in Starfire full screen).

I used Microsoft's Upgrade Assistant and downloaded the ISO DVD image (Windows 8 Pro 32-bit). This was all pretty painless and only cost 25 quid, which isn't bad value.

I completely wiped the machine and re-installed. Installation was pretty painless and the O/S was up and running in no time.

The fun really started when I tried to get hold of some video drivers. I already had a record of the video card type and headed over to nvidia's website to get the appropriate installer. This is where the fun started. The drivers would not recognise the video adapter. After much headbutting the keyboard and reading forums it turns out Sony have twiddled the hardware ID's so that you can only use their tweaked drivers.

Off to the Sony website then. Windows 8 drivers - nada. The only drivers are for Windows Vista. As some folks on forums recommended installing these I did so. They installed OK but they are clearly not 100% compatible as Steam crashes in 'Big Picture Mode' (their gamepad friendly interface) and Starfire has a weird scaling problem when run full screen.

Thanks Sony! Very helpful using standard video hardware then crippling it by preventing the installation of the latest standard drivers. Apparently, the same problem occurs with various Sony laptops. I won't be going to Sony for a PC again.

Anyhoo... Sony idiocy aside, here's my summary of the Windows 8 experience. Bear in mind this is from the perspective of use with a TV for internet browsing, gamepad gaming and NetFlix. I suspect I will have more confusion and niggles using it as a main development O/S.

  • *Extremely fast boot up. Much faster than Vista.
  • *Extremely fast log in.
  • Start screen with tiles works well on a TV
  • Desktop and Metro switching can be confusing, e.g. accessing a PDF through desktop Internet Explorer causes a switch to full screen Metro
  • Having two Internet Explorers is a bit odd (one is traditional desktop, the other Metro)
  • Pop-up side bars are not very intuitive initially. Watching Microsoft's short introductory videos is recommended. This seems a bit poor design-wise as you don't need to watch videos to figure out Apple devices running iOS. I can't imagine the swipe on touch screens is any more intuitive.
  • Driver horrors (largely due to Sony's dumb tinkering)

* I appreciate boot time and login time are dependent on installed applications and config. Both the Vista and Windows 8 configurations had minimal software. Just drivers and Open Office.

So, in summary, I quite like it. The chunky new Start screen works well on a TV and the lack of Start menu isn't really a problem if you pin applications to the desktop taskbar and get used to the pop-up sidebars.

I have already bought a license for my current development box. I will be upgrading it and will most likely connect it to the older TV we're keeping in the study/office.

Edit: This post doesn't express any of my thoughts on the whole App Store / Lock Down mentality that Microsoft are drifting towards (in line with Apple and their money making machine). As with other developers, I do worry about the openness of Windows being eroded and Microsoft's ability to censor and control software that is developed for their platform. That's for another day...