Windows 8 Initial Thoughts

Much has been suggested about Microsoft’s most recent desktop operating system, mostly complaints about the new interface.  Technician like to complain about change, and since we get it so very often, we are often rewarded with plenty to complain about.  However, in this case, other than complaining for complaining sake, much of what I have read to date has been wrong.  Windows 8 is a big step forward and has the potential to be a game changer.

To explain better let me start a bit before Windows 8 was out and about.  I have been late to the Tablet scene.  I have a very nice laptop – it is light, fast, quiet and has a good eight hours of battery life if I am not pushing it too hard.  The need for a tablet didn’t seem to be all that great.  Additionally, I like to type, and my experience with my smart phones has shown me that a lack of a physical keyboard henders the typing – or to be more fair, it henders editing, which I seem to need to do early and often.  But being a technology person I am expected to be able to answer random questions about tablets, so I decided to purchase one… or two, or so.

My first Tablet was a Google Nexus 7.  This seven inch tablet seemed to fit my need/style better than a ten inch tablet.  I had it for two days before I cracked the screen.  Since I was on a mission (learn tablets) and since the screens apparently break easily, I purchased anpther Nexus 7 while mine was in the shop getting repaired, at my expense.  Second Nexus 7 and away I go.  Typing was hard, as I thought, so I picked up a USB keyboard.  That helped, but really it was sort of bulky to use and since I tended to leave the keybard at home, it wasn’t very useful.  Don’t get me wrong, I do like and still use my Nexus 7, mostly as a “quick access” device when I travel, but it didn’t give me the ability to function around the house – I still had to go back to my laptop.

And of course there are always the plethora of laptops here and there.  Some of that is becuase I have family (and kids) that often find themselves in dire need, so I shuffle off my latest “low end” laptop for them to use.  I like to keep a small formfactor laptop in my living room so I can do casual e-mails, travel plans and so on w/o having to head to my office or bedroom (each having their own laptops, of course).  Through a twist of fate (e.g. people taking my laptops for their own uses) I recently found myself once again without a “downstairs laptop”.

I already knew that my Nexus 7 would not do, so I decided to get an Asus TF700 with keyboard.  On the surface this seemed like the right choice.  I had, in short, a laptop so I should be able to do all the things with it that my downstairs laptop used to do for me (after all, I don’t do VM’s and such on the downstairs laptop, mostly just browsing, e-mail, travel arrangements, ordering takeout, and so on).  However, after playing with it i began to notice some issues.

First issue, it was weighted wrong, which made using it on my lap difficult.

Second issue, certain apps didn’t work as well on it as they did on my laptop.  My passwrod keeper, for instance, wasn’t workable on the tablet, nor were some of the apps I used for travel.

Third issue, everything is full screen, and I am not a full screen guy.

And so on.

In discussions with my other tech friends it was noted that you get a lot more “stuff” (hey, that is a technical term) with a low end laptop than you do from a high end tablet, and the low end laptop costs less!  However, I decided to wait a bit and keep the tablet as my downstairs laptop for a bit, after all I had already purchased that one.  And to be fair, I did get better at it, though still not as good as I would have liked.

Now back to Windows 8.  I picked up an ASUS Q200e from Best Busy with Windows 8.  This is a touch screen laptop that sells for $500 (less than the TF700 plus keyboard).  I picked it up for a variety of reasons, and one of which was to test out the touchscreen features of Windows 8 (I had already converted the Bedroom laptop to Windows 8, though it is not touchscreen).  Another reason is that I wanted to give a laptop as a Christmas present and was unsure if Windows 8 was the right choice (bedroom laptop experience left me thinking Windows 7 might be a better choice).  However, the giftee did have younger kids who all were great at using tablets and touchscreen, so an inexpensive touchsreen laptop with Windows 8 migiht be just the thing… so hence I needed to do some testing.

Here is what I found.  First, stop whining about the interface.  It is not bad.  In fact, after you get used to it, it really isn’t anything different than any of the changes we have all gone through before – and in my case that is a long list.  I do recall using Windows 2.1, for instance, not to mention command line OS’s before that.  So yes, I have been through a few GUI changes.  This isn’t worse.

Second, for such a cheap laptop, it performs well.  Have i tried to fire up Diablo III or XCOM on it yet?  No, I haven’t, but in general tests with things that I do use my downstairs laptop for it performed admirably, and better than the tablet I had been using.

Third, battery life is pretty good.  I carry it around as I would a tablet and get enough battery life to get me through an evening of tinkering while way from my charger, though not as much as I did on the TF700.

Last, with the touch screen, I found I liked (yes really) the interface.  I found the touch interface to work and respond well.  In fact, after a few days of playing with it I found myself tapping the screen on my bedroom laptop, which of course doesn’t do anything for me since it isn’t, as previously mentioned, touch screen.  You get used to it real quick.

And I played Fruit Ninja just as badly on the laptop as I did on the tablet, but the game itself was just as good.

With Windows 8 on a touchscreen laptop I have all the features i need from the laptop side and the features I need from the tablet side.

Microsoft may not (ever?) be first to a new tech party, but when they put their mind to it, they do show up and make a presence.  I expect to see in the months to come an uptick in Windows 8 Ultrabooks and tablets, as I expect the average tech consumer will find out what I found, which is you can have the best of both worlds.