Friday, June 28th 2013

Windows 8.1, and Why You Should Let Go of Windows 7

When Steve Jobs went upstage in early-April 2010 to unveil the iPad, it was expected to be the next logical step to Apple's successful miniaturization of the MacBook to the category-defining MacBook Air. It was expected to be an OS X-based handheld that ran on hardware not much different. When Jobs revealed the iPad to be an upscale of the iPhone idea, rather than a downscale of the MacBook idea, the industry was never the same again. The successful reception of the iOS on both the iPhone and iPad is what could have been the genesis of the Windows of today, which looks great on smartphones, tablets, and touch-enabled notebooks, but is hated on desktops, particularly by the PC enthusiast community. Much of that hatred is misdirected, and is a waste of time. Here's why.
While Microsoft Windows CE and Windows Phone powered PDAs for years before the smartphone revolution, Microsoft's most popular creation in the mobile space has been Windows Phone 7, and its successors. The brand new 'tile' interface, coupled with clear, finger-friendly, and forgiving UI elements finally gave Microsoft the UI design it was looking for. Rather than making a repeat of Apple's winning formula of upscaling Windows Phone 7 to a software for tablets (i.e. being content with Windows RT), Microsoft extended the UI to the entire Windows product family, including operating systems for the PC, and shockingly, even Windows Server. With the new Windows 8.1 Release Preview, it's clear that Microsoft isn't going back on the direction Windows 8 took, and so as PC enthusiasts, we're forced to ask ourselves if putting up a fight against it, by clinging on to Windows 7, is really worth it.

The Start Menu that never really left.
The guiding principle behind a tile-like UI on mainline PC operating systems isn't that people would drop their mice and stretch their arms out to the monitor (a touchscreen), and begin using their PCs that way. It was so the PC in itself could evolve. The biggest point of contention for PC enthusiasts refusing to upgrade to Windows 8 and its inevitable successor is the lack of a Start menu. Well, not sure if you noticed, but the Start menu never left. It's only not a menu anymore, it's a screen. When you click on the start button on older Windows desktops, whatever shows up as a result, has your undivided attention. You're either looking for a program to launch, a document you were just working on, or finding your way to the key areas of the operating system. Your business with the Start menu gets wrapped up in a few seconds. So why not stretch that Start "thing" to cover the entire screen, and make it more functional?

Submenus of the Windows XP Start menu stretched out to the entire height of the screen, and with enough items, you could practically fill the screen with an extremely collapsed Start menu. Ask yourself if a fullscreen Start screen is really that different, after all, when Microsoft shrunk the Start menu to a fixed-size one in Windows Vista, by dropping in a scroll-bar, it sparked outrage.

Finding programs, documents, or OS-related functions using the Start screen takes nearly the same time once you get the hang of it, and can actually be quicker. When people screamed from the rooftops asking for their familiar Start button back on the taskbar, Microsoft obliged. The upcoming Windows 8.1, which will be a free upgrade to current Windows 8 users, features a Start button, right where you expect it to be. Before you get excited, all it does is spawn up the Start screen. Windows 8.1 also features an option with which your computer starts up straight to the desktop, instead of the Start screen.

The Modern UI bloat that doesn't really exist.
Another point of contention for Start screen opponents is the modern UI apps that come included with the operating system constituting bloatware. Well, they don't. These are apps that tell you the weather, list out the headlines, track your stocks, and so on. The default set of apps that come with Windows 8 barely have a couple of dozen megabytes in memory footprint, which is made up for by an overall better memory management by Windows 8. Besides, enthusiast PCs begin at 4 GB of memory, 8 GB is considered mainstream for gaming PCs, and enthusiast builds are getting the whiff of 16 GB already. Plenty of room in there for an app that tells the weather.

The grass on the other side stays greener even after you get there.
With the Windows 8.1 Release Preview we got to play with, Microsoft made it clear that it's not going to make steps backwards. There's "a" Start button, not "the" Start button. What shows up after you click it is bigger and better than its predecessor's Start screen. There are new tile-size options, including "large" (double the area of a medium tile), and "tiny" (a quarter of the area of a regular tile). The new "tiny" tile size is perfect for organizing shortcuts to scores of programs or games, the tiles have just enough room for a clear icon.

Windows 8.1, like its predecessor, starts up quicker than Windows 7 does. The kernel of the operating system never really shuts down, but hibernates, and wakes up in a snap each time you power up the PC. The new Storage Spaces, which is similar to Linux LDM, lets you better organize data across multiple physical hard drives.

Windows 8.1 introduces a new display driver model, WDDM 1.3. This brings with it a few new display features, including the standardization of wireless display, 48 Hz dynamic refresh rates for video playback, V-sync interrupt optimization, video conferencing acceleration, a Direct3D API feature so major, that it warrants a version number change. Introduced with DirectX 11.2, a new API feature called "tiled surfaces."

Tiled Surfaces is analogous to the OpenGL mega-textures technology demonstrated by id Software on "Rage," which helped it create vast, detailed, and smoothly animating 3D scenes. Instead of streaming textures as the scene is being rendered, mega-textures allows developers to deploy larger textures that are fewer in number, and dynamically show portions of it. These textures needn't be loaded to the video memory entirely, can stay on the disk, and the API would access portions of it as they become relevant to the scene, as it's being viewed. In essence, mega-texturing is a sort of "virtual-memory" for GPUs, and could shift focus from larger video memory to faster memory, in the upcoming generations of GPUs.

In conclusion
Suck it up. Windows for PC isn't going to change, and was always prone to significant change. Windows 95 was Microsoft's response to PCs that were firmly capable of GUI, at a time when people at large were getting the hang of using a mouse. Windows 8 and 8.1 are just as landmark, whether we like it or not. Microsoft is catering to a large mass of people that are getting the hang of a touchscreen, and prefer a uniform experience between devices both on the desk, and on the move. Improvements such as new "tiny" tiles make the Start screen just as functional and quick to use as a menu, and Microsoft isn't stopping with its innovations that will get increasingly out of reach for Windows 7 users.
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338 Comments on Windows 8.1, and Why You Should Let Go of Windows 7

#1
Tatty_One
Senior Moderator
Play nice children or believe me you won't be playing at all if you continue in this vein, I repeat, you can argue all you like but cut the insults and name calling.
Posted on Reply
#2
Prima.Vera
The only hing I really hate are those darn full screen default programs. For example when trying to see a single picture, it opens by default that overly shitty full screen picture application. Same thing for a movie, for an .mp3 file, for a .pdf, etc. After taking so long to load a crappy picture viewer, i cannot even go back to desktop by just closing it, or something. I have to waist a lot of time. This is why I hate Win 8 so much.
Posted on Reply
#3
Kreij
Senior Monkey Moderator
You could just set the default picture viewer to an application that runs on the desktop.
I use Corel Photo-Paint 5. Works just fine, and it's supposedly not even Win 8 compatible. lulz.
Posted on Reply
#4
Prima.Vera
Kreij said:
You could just set the default picture viewer to an application that runs on the desktop.
I use Corel Photo-Paint 5. Works just fine, and it's supposedly not even Win 8 compatible. lulz.
I was doing that. Every time. For pictures, for music, for documents, for movies, a lot a lot of wasted time! That's why Win8 is a big piece of trash!
Posted on Reply
#5
Kreij
Senior Monkey Moderator
I guess I always used other applications than the ones that came default in Windows, so I've been doing it with every OS. I can see your point if you use the MS apps, though.
Posted on Reply
#6
Aquinus
Resident Wat-man
Well, since Windows 7 works perfectly fine for me, I see no reason to "upgrade". There is always the famous motto, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
Posted on Reply
#7
trickson
OH, I have such a headache
Aquinus said:
Well, since Windows 7 works perfectly fine for me, I see no reason to "upgrade". There is always the famous motto, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
Agreed.
You can also just look at the market and how well it is received in the first place. And it doesn't look at all good for windows 8 or 8.1. Not a very well received OS in the real world. Back to the drawing board MS!
Posted on Reply
#8
TRWOV
Prima.Vera said:
I was doing that. Every time. For pictures, for music, for documents, for movies, a lot a lot of wasted time! That's why Win8 is a big piece of trash!
Windows + X > Control panel > Set default programs > Select any program from the list (Windows Photo Viewer for example) > Set this program as default

Same as with W7, only that in W8 Metro apps are the default.

If you don't do it through the Control Panel, every time you open a new extension you'll get a prompt to set the default program.
Posted on Reply
#9
Kreij
Senior Monkey Moderator
Aquinus said:
Well, since Windows 7 works perfectly fine for me, I see no reason to "upgrade". There is always the famous motto, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
That's only from the perspective of the desktop user. Win 7 is not touch/mobile friendly at all, and it's not surprising that MS wants to capitalize on that market. Their mistake was in not giving people sufficient options that were device dependent.

There was no real reason that Win 8 could not have detected touch-enable devices and defaulted to a standard desktop if one was not detected.
Posted on Reply
#10
FordGT90Concept
"I go fast!1!11!1!"
Microsoft is trying to make Phone, Xbox, Laptop, Desktop, and Tablet all the same operating system. It just hasn't dawned on them yet that they're separate for a reason. How people interact with an operating system determines how the entire UI paradigm. Microsoft, having so many game developers under their belt, should be well aware that major design changes have to be made for users on keyboard/mouse compared to those using an Xbox controller. The same applies to every facet of the OS from the main menu (start menu prior to Windows 8, start screen in windows 8 and beyond), to the size of the icons, to the layout of all the configuration panels, to specific UI elements like sliders. Instead of doing the smart thing which is having one kernel that drives all UI experiences, they're trying to force all users into one basket and make them like it. The poor sales are proof that strategy isn't working and it's echoed in the disappointment in the Windows 8 UI.

Windows 8 tries to be the jack of all trades but it fails completely. The desktop users don't like it because all UI elements are made to fit a finger instead of a 16x16 mouse cursor. Laptop users don't like it for the same reason. Tablet users don't like it because what should be simple tasks (like application switching or tab management) is needlessly difficult. Lets also not forget that a lot of metro apps seem to be breaking lately. The only thing Microsoft has done right so far is kept Windows Phone separate. I fear they're inclined to put the same Windows 8 rubbish into Windows Phone though and they'll trash what little good they have there as well.
Posted on Reply
#11
trickson
OH, I have such a headache
FordGT90Concept said:
Microsoft is trying to make Phone, Xbox, Laptop, Desktop, and Tablet all the same operating system. It just hasn't dawned on them yet that they're separate for a reason. How people interact with an operating system determines how the entire UI paradigm. Microsoft, having so many game developers under their belt, should be well aware that major design changes have to be made for users on keyboard/mouse compared to those using an Xbox controller. The same applies to ever facet of the OS from the main menu (start menu prior to Windows 8, start screen in windows 8 and beyond), to the size of the icons, to the layout of all the configuration panels, to specific UI elements like sliders. Instead of doing the smart thing which is having one kernel that drives all UI experiences, they're trying to force all users into one basket and make them like it. The poor sales are proof that strategy isn't working and it's echoed in the disappointment in the Windows 8 UI.

Windows 8 tries to be the jack of all trades but it fails completely. The desktop users don't like it because all UI elements are made to fit a finger instead of a 16x16 mouse cursor. Laptop users don't like it for the same reason. Tablet users don't like it because what should be simple tasks (like application switching or tab management) is needlessly difficult. Lets also not forget that a lot of metro apps seem to be breaking lately. The only thing Microsoft has done right so far is kept Windows Phone separate. I fear they're inclined to put the same Windows 8 rubbish into Windows Phone though and they'll trash what little good they have there as well.
What he said! Well put ForGT90Concept well put.
Posted on Reply
#12
Aquinus
Resident Wat-man
Kreij said:
That's only from the perspective of the desktop user. Win 7 is not touch/mobile friendly at all, and it's not surprising that MS wants to capitalize on that market. Their mistake was in not giving people sufficient options that were device dependent.

There was no real reason that Win 8 could not have detected touch-enable devices and defaulted to a standard desktop if one was not detected.
Well, that's kind of my point. It makes the assumption that everyone is using touch screen input device, which is clearly flawed. At least Apple left touch in iOS and didn't let it spill over into OS X and ruin it. While I don't normally praise Apple, I think that keeping touch segregated between iOS and OS X was a good idea.
Posted on Reply
#13
Prima.Vera
Kreij said:
I guess I always used other applications than the ones that came default in Windows, so I've been doing it with every OS. I can see your point if you use the MS apps, though.
Agree. Me too. However Win7's default picture viewer, or media player are quite good to be honest, even if I later use MPC-HC for music/videos. Hoever in Win8, even after I installed MPC-HC and set it to open all music/movies extensions by default, Win8 was still opening with it's crappy fullscreen metro apps. Really, really annoying. I could only fix it - TEMPORARY, by right click on the file - Open with... and - use this by default. But imagine doing that for ALL different file types and extensions!
Posted on Reply
#14
FX-GMC
Prima.Vera said:
Agree. Me too. However Win7's default picture viewer, or media player are quite good to be honest, even if I later use MPC-HC for music/videos. Hoever in Win8, even after I installed MPC-HC and set it to open all music/movies extensions by default, Win8 was still opening with it's crappy fullscreen metro apps. Really, really annoying. I could only fix it - TEMPORARY, by right click on the file - Open with... and - use this by default. But imagine doing that for ALL different file types and extensions!
You should try resetting all file types to default. All my files open with the correct app that I set.
Posted on Reply
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