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Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad

13 replies on 1 page. Most recent reply: Mar 11, 2014 10:28 PM by Matthew Graves

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Bruce Eckel

Posts: 875
Nickname: beckel
Registered: Jun, 2003

Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad (View in Weblogs)
Posted: Apr 27, 2013 11:56 AM
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After a lot of trepidation because of bad press, I've rapidly come to prefer Windows 8 over Windows 7. Because an equivalent-horsepower Mac is 3 times the cost of a Windows 8 machine, I'm moving back to Windows.

It’s been a 6-year experiment with the Mac. I’ve adapted pretty well, I think. But in hindsight I realize there are a lot of things that never felt quite natural. Basic things like the finder and resizing windows. And more sophisticated things like any software installation that doesn’t come as a Mac installer. Obviously Windows has plenty of issues of its own but I was expecting to have a dramatic experience, that it would be SO much better that I could never imagine going back. I know a number of long-time Windows users that had exactly that experience. But it never really happened to me.

The biggest realization was that I wasn’t using anything that required a Mac. All the Mac-specific programs that I use have Windows equivalents (I know there are some programs out there that only work on the Mac; for example I’ve heard a lot about OmniGraffle but never tried it). Perhaps this was because I was still using my Windows 7 desktop; that encouraged me to stay neutral. And in all my books I’ve always kept in mind that I had multi-platform users, and users who didn’t necessarily have money, so I’ve always leaned towards open-source, cross-platform and low-cost tools.

I’ve also missed some things about Windows, believe it or not.

Ultimately I needed to use Word, the Windows version, for page layout, indexing, etc. Nothing else does the job (I’ve tried, and keep trying the alternatives). The waterfall model of “first finish the book with one program, then do layout with a different program” just doesn’t work -- you’re always finding things that need to be changed, right up to the end. And Word for the Mac is too crippled without macros. When we started laying out Atomic Scala, both Dianne and our designer Daniel put Parallels and VMWare Fusion (respectively) on their Macs to run it and could muddle through but there were some issues, like key combinations we could never figure out how to get working on the Mac.

I also wanted something with at least 4 cores, in order to do more concurrency programming experiments with languages like Scala and Go. The right Intel i7 has 4 cores and through “hardware hyperthreading” presents 8 hardware threads, so I wanted that -- as near as I can tell it will look to my programs as if there are 8 CPUs available.

When I actually started comparing, the price-to-horsepower ratio is rather astounding. Here’s what I ended up getting (yes, the 150$-off-sale at Costco helped make the decision).

I completely acknowledge that the Mac is the primary reason that Windows has gotten any better at all. My compelling motivation for moving to the Mac in the first place was that Windows laptops couldn’t go to sleep and recover -- it was a long, tedious process that half the time ended up in everything crashing, whereas the Mac would seamlessly and instantly wake up. That alone was worth the move. But since then Windows has finally fixed the problem and wakes up fast, with no more crashing due to suspension and hibernation. You used to have to reboot Windows regularly because of some kind of bit rot within the system, but that’s been fixed at least by Windows 7 and you can go for long periods without rebooting. Yes, it’s ridiculous that a company that makes so much money takes so long to fix things that are so fundamental, but at least they eventually did -- and now the cost difference is too great, and there just isn’t the pain anymore that drove me to the Mac.

It’s not that I’m off Apple products. When my little iPod which I use to listen to podcasts during long drives dies, I’ll get an iPod touch. As far as tablets go, the iPad just feels so much different than an Android, and there are apps that only seem to be on the iPad so I’ll get one of those. But neither of those are going to impact my keyboarding experience the way that moving back and forth between the Windows desktop and the Mac laptop has been. It turns out not to be that difficult to go back and forth -- I did it all the time, often several times a day. But in the end there just wasn’t that much of a benefit to stay with the Mac, once Windows got its act together and started catching up.

The touchpad experience is not as good on the Toshiba. On the Mac, it’s super-sensitive and like butter. I’m still getting used to the Toshiba’s pad, which because of Win8 goes “in the opposite direction.” This can apparently be changed (with hacks; they seem to REALLY want you to get used to the new direction) but I’m going to stick it out for awhile and see if it becomes natural (it’s probably like how your brain eventually inverts the world if you walk around looking through prisms to make it upside-down. Also it’s probably one of those mental exercises that fends off Alzheimer’s).

My initial reaction when I started hearing about Windows 8 was that it was going to be another Vista, and people have been calling it that. But my experience has been completely different. So far my impression is: “a significant incremental improvement over Windows 7, with the Metro interface that is initially a bit annoying but can easily be fixed.”

The biggest effect you’ll get in “fixing” Windows 8 is installing a “start menu button.” There are a bunch of these, but the free one that was recommended to me is Start Menu 8, and I ended up installing a payware ($5) one called Start8.

Once you install a start menu button, there really isn’t much of a “feel” difference with Windows 7, except that some of the apps are really nice. One in particular is Netflix, which has a native Windows 8 app that’s just excellent -- the best viewing experience I’ve had with Netflix so far. I haven’t really explored many of the other Metro apps but now and again I’ll poke at one and they all seem pretty nice; it feels like most of the complaints are in the category of “this feels different to me, so I don’t like it.” I’m probably a statistical outlier because I like different and get bored with too much of the same, so my analyses are biased that way.

One thing I discovered is the Gnuwin package of unix utilities custom-compiled as native windows apps, so you get everything you remember from Unix but without the disconnect of having to install and run Cygwin (this is a new discovery so I haven’t yet figured out whether it’s going to do the trick, but it looks promising). In the process of working on Atomic Scala I’ve learned a fair amount about Windows Powershell, which I won’t say is great but does a lot more than the command prompt, and is built-in to start in the directory of your choice by typing “Powershell” into the address bar of the Windows Explorer. It’s possible that Powershell + Gnuwin might just satisfy my need for a Unix shell better than Cygwin does. For the full Linux experience I will install some kind of VM and/or dual boot Ubuntu.

There are also a ton of really good free apps on Windows. I rely primarily on this site to find them.

Although the Mac emphasizes usability, there are often design decisions that are just “different” and not necessarily more usable. When I pull a Chrome tab into its own window on the Mac, ALT-TAB doesn’t move me from one Chrome window to another, but instead to the next whole application. On Windows the ALT-TAB behavior is a lot more useful.

I’ve never gotten used to the Macs plethora of key combinations, and definitely not the symbols for them. Having “fn,” “control,” “alt,” “option,” “command,” and whatever the last one is, I call it “flower” but I think in the past it might have been open-apple, and I think you can combine all of those with the shift key to produce so many variants that it far exceeds the brain’s supposed seven-plus-or-minus-two capacity for remembering things. I know there is consistency across applications with some of the basic shortcuts but beyond that I’ve never discerned a pattern and so have never been able to remember much in the way of shortcuts on the Mac.

I’ll still keep the MacBook because there certainly might be some Mac apps I discover and want to run. But ultimately the 3X cost to get the same horsepower was just too much to pay. And realizing that I just wasn’t doing much of anything Mac-specific sealed the deal -- whereas I am doing at least a couple of Windows-specific things.

My 19-year old niece really likes Windows 8; in particular the metro interface is one of her favorite things about it. Her dad (my brother, the IT guy) says “she likes anything new.” But still, not the worst thing in the world for Microsoft if the kids like it.

There’s been a lot of talk about the effect of Windows 8 on the industry, saying it is disappointing, miserable, etc. But there are multiple things happening right now: lots of people have been discovering that a smartphone or tablet is actually all they need. Those people aren’t going to buy more laptop computers (and with this machine I probably won’t be buying any more desktop computers -- I’ll just plug this into a keyboard, mouse and monitor). So there’s actually no way to know whether these “disappointing” sales might not actually be better than without Windows 8.

Windows Vista was a really terrible experience for me and is a big part of what drove me to try the Mac. I also have a hard time with Microsoft’s (Ballmer’s) response of spending 400 million on PR to try to convince people that Vista was good. That money could have done so much -- like, fixed Vista if money were all it took. Or imagine 40 startups funded at 10 million each; a few of those would have produced something great. Instead, 400 million went to pay people to talk about how wonderful Vista was. And Sinofsky gets fired for Windows 8, which, once you get over or around the metro interface, seems like a decent incremental improvement over Windows 7. Based on early press (like PCMag, ordinarily a Windows booster, and this Monday Note -- notice, however, the ultimate analysis was made on sales), I was expecting a worse-than-Vista experience where Metro would be constantly in my face, but so far I find it quite usable, and there appear to be numerous places where they made it not hugely but notably better. It probably would have been smarter to make Metro an option and keep the basic Win7 look and feel (make something like Start8 the default), but the declaring of death for the PC based on Win8 seems overblown. Naturally, lots of people who never needed the full power of a keyboard-and-big-screen computer in the first place are buying handheld devices instead; because of those people we saw an artificial economy when desktops and laptops were the only computing game in town. Now that they’re not, many people are not going to replace their desktop or notebook computers with more of the same -- but that doesn’t mean Windows 8 is bad, or “has killed the PC market.”

kent sandvik

Posts: 1
Nickname: khx
Registered: Apr, 2013

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Apr 27, 2013 6:24 PM
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I think the title says it all, not so bad. But not an inspiring product, either. Like a generic toaster from Costco.

Finbarr Saunders

Posts: 2
Nickname: finbarr
Registered: Apr, 2013

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Apr 27, 2013 11:45 PM
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Hey Bruce,

A nice article; recently due to Apple's shenanigans and just the general direction of OS X and hardware design choices, I also decided to move away from OS X after a 5-6 year hiatus from Windows. However, in my case, I moved over to Linux. I still maintain multiple Windows VMs of course.

For the ALT+TAB problem that you had with Mac, there's a neat alternative. ALT+~ allows you to tab between windows of the particular application you are using at the time, and it's one thing I miss from Mac that doesn't seem to be available in any other OS. To be honest I find the Aero ALT+TAB from Windows 7 a bit more confusing with its application preview. Haven't really taken the time to play with Windows 8 though.

Finbarr Saunders

Posts: 2
Nickname: finbarr
Registered: Apr, 2013

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Apr 28, 2013 10:26 AM
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Duh, that's actually CMD+TAB and CMD+~ of course!

Richard Gregg

Posts: 1
Nickname: odgregg
Registered: Apr, 2013

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Apr 28, 2013 4:23 PM
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> For the ALT+TAB problem that you had with Mac, there's a
> neat alternative. ALT+~ allows you to tab between windows
> of the particular application you are using at the time,
> and it's one thing I miss from Mac that doesn't seem to be
> available in any other OS.

Is that any different to ctrl+tab in Windows? Which I believe also works on Linux. It switches between windows or open documents in the current application.

Malte Finsterwalder

Posts: 20
Nickname: jufoda
Registered: Aug, 2003

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Apr 30, 2013 9:25 AM
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Maybe some clarification about window switching.
Alt+Tab switches between programs. Ctrl+Tab switches between documents inside a single program. And then there is the "switch between the different open instances of the current program". This is not available on Windows 7 as far as I know. Don't know about Windows 8, since I don't have it.
Gnome Shell (my Linux desktop of choice) does it with Alt+^ (on my german keyboard, that's to the very left, right above Tab).

gabriel sharp

Posts: 2
Nickname: osirisgoth
Registered: May, 2013

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: May 19, 2013 1:28 AM
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The kids like it... hah... my kids love Linux and despise Windows, but rather, read this article which tells us the real deal about Windows 8, from a balanced prespective of sanity:
did I mention that it was balanced??

gabriel sharp

Posts: 2
Nickname: osirisgoth
Registered: May, 2013

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: May 19, 2013 1:29 AM
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hah good one.. i'm gonna put that one over the door!

Frankly Amazed

Posts: 1
Nickname: franklyama
Registered: Nov, 2013

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Nov 20, 2013 1:07 PM
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I can relate to Bruce's Windows versus Mac experience.

Personally I thought Windows was awful until I tried the Mac. My Mac experience was like trying to use a crippled Windows, I have never found doing anything on a Mac easier than doing it with Windows, and I am not even convinced the Mac is less buggy than Windows, having experienced freezing app's and os on an iMac.

I have not had any reason to try Windows 8 yet, I admit that I am not looking forward to it. Both Microsoft and Apple both seem to have that horrible propensity to just completely alter the user experience without giving a sh*t about what the user may feel about it.

Like for instance, just disappearing the start menu, or completely altering the itunes functionality.

I find this inexcusable, especially when they have access to the program code for both and could easily have incorporated both.

Your link to the laptop spec. is dead

I would have liked to know whether Windows 7 app's run on Windows 8, I guess I will discover that somewhere, sometime.

I could never understand Microsoft's inability to fix things, and even now I am astonished at how bad Word is, in it's what? 20th iteration of development? and still unable to place a picture where YOU want it placed, rather than where word decides.


Damian Yerrick

Posts: 1
Nickname: tepples
Registered: Feb, 2014

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Feb 17, 2014 2:16 PM
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The "artificial economy" you mention was keeping PCs affordable for people who need them. As it becomes more common to buy a tablet instead of a PC, you'll see PC makers leaving the market. This already happened in 2012 when laptop makers discontinued the 10.1" size in favor of tablets, leaving people like me who actually like a 10.1" PC with nothing to buy to replace our netbooks when they die. One ends up having to buy a far more expensive x86 tablet and keyboard to replace it.

Another problem likely to arise in a tablet-only household is that one's needs are likely to grow past the artificial limit of a tablet operating system. Say a high school student enrolls in a programming class. If the family owns a PC, the head of household can install the free IDE that the instructor recommends. But if the family owns only an iPad or Surface RT, programming tools that run on the device are far harder to find, and the tablet maker may in fact have completely banned them from the store. The parents, faced with the sudden sticker shock of having to buy a PC, might even end up dissuading the child from taking the course at all for cost reasons.

Charles Heckel

Posts: 1
Nickname: persnicket
Registered: Feb, 2014

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Feb 20, 2014 6:24 PM
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I concede that Windows 8 does a pretty good job of turning a precision tool like a high-powered desktop or workstation into a smartphone, and no doubt the consumers looking for a glorified XBox outnumber the people who want to use a computer to manipulate information productively. It's a perfectly sound economic decision on Microsoft's part, whatever the intellectual and cultural consequences.

I'm just a Sunday programmer, but I do need to multitask, and I think a product that advertises itself as Windows should probably window. The Metro interface looks superficially like the icons on the old Windows interface, but open up Explorer or Write and the first thing you notice is that these apps don't window--they screen at you.
This is a pattern language that tells you comparing and contrasting different sources is forbidden, that consolidating information is presumed to be some sort of copyright violation.

Yes, we can shuffle our app screens like a deck of cards, and yes, there are rather clumsy split-screen maneuvers that leave the text unreadable. Being old-fashioned, I take the attitude that it's my computer and my process, and I am entitled to have my data where I jolly well please.

We're supposed to love giving our apps the little sidestep so Microsoft can treat a full-sized monitor like a palm-sized folding phone. This is highly conceptual of them--no doubt they're trying to imitate Apple--but they haven't got it right. Apple has a history of improving mediocre hardware with ingenious software. Microsoft is degrading high-resolution hardware with theirs.

The menus are getting replaced with glyphs for the semi-literate, and cutesy-if-invisible charms and doodads are strewn here and there, waiting for you to go exploring and discovering. This is great for children, but I am a busy adult with efficient learning skills. I want to RTFM.

"Runs great if you fix it" is the sort of thing a used car salesman might say about a clunker. I can regain lost multitasking with freeware that does do windowing--Open Office, for example--but I shouldn't have to come up with workarounds because Microsoft's bureaucratic gluteus is in the way.

I tried moving a simple, uncomplicated zip file from Downloads to a new folder, and Windows 8 told me I needed administrator status. Which of several kinds? Didn't say. Perhaps I should have scouted around trying each one, and searching the Web to learn about the special supersecret administrator status you get with appropriate rituals. Instead I went into the zipped folder, selected the subfolders, and moved those instead.

Same deal with the Metro store. Tried to upload 8.1--"You need a Microsoft account." Right ho. Went and got an account. No joy. Another puzzling plurality, this time of Microsoft accounts. There are Microsoft's administrator accounts and Microsoft's local accounts, but you don't want these. You want Microsoft's <u>Microsoft</u> account.

Feeling namespaced out, I went and applied for a Microsoft Microsoft account, and jumped through the requisite hoops, and then Microsoft coyly asked me if I would go through an extra step to assure a higher level of security. I bit, and found it required one of three items, none of which I had, and provided no way of backing out of the extra-step option, so that I would have had to start all over again. Is there anyone here who doesn't think this kind of programming practice sucks little green toads?

Yes, we can go back and buy our Start button if we want to, and yes, we can put up with the schizophrenic design team that produced a Windows with both a Metro and a Desktop rather than a consistent user interface. But I hear that the smartphone market is going to dominate, and that we will be going willy-nilly to purely Metro interfaces in the next generation.

Given that Windows appears to be on the verge of ceasing to window entirely, the Metro screen with its neatly arranged apps suggests a new name. We should call it "Blocks" and call successive editions Blocks A, Blocks B, and so on. This opens IT to a new metaphor: the child playing with blocks.

Yes, I know--the piles on the Metro screen are upside down. Let us rephrase: the intellectually compromised child playing with blocks. This signifies the users who might hurt themselves with a Real Live Computer and need to be administratively blocked. What should we call them? Blocks, blocking--ah! Blockheads!

Paul Duncanson

Posts: 1
Nickname: pduncanson
Registered: Mar, 2014

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Mar 1, 2014 2:05 PM
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Hi Bruce,

What about Linux? Really!! Not even considered with your evaluation? I personally use all three operating systems (i.e. Windows 8.1, Mac OSX 10.9 and Mandriva Linux) with my work as a software developer and see value in each platform depending upon what needs to be done. Most of my paid work leads me to server-side development with either Java or .NET utilizing either Linux or Windows. I also develop both Mac and mobile applications predominantly utilizing XCode/Objective-C or Java on the Android platform.

I still own a copy of your book "Thinking in Java", second edition, and appreciate the contribution that your work has provided to promote the Java philosophy. I appreciate what Java provides in regards to a platform-agnostic environment where ones' development can survive the test of time. It sure gets annoying to have to revisit work provided on the Windows platform, for example, that must be upgraded to Microsofts' newest OS/IDE/Language.

It is for this reason, given your Java background and it's strengths, that I was surprised that you didn't include Linux in your evaluation.

With Linux there's no longer as much of an issue with the challenge of a moving target where products have to be rewritten to take advantage of evolving languages, IDE's and Platforms. With Linux you can also choose to work in a completely open source environment where there are no proprietary libraries that may or may not do what you expect and are not always ported with the newest evolution of Windows or Mac OS X.

Your evaluation referenced the performance gains of utilizing a Windows 8 computer over the equivalent Mac OS X installation with equal hardware expense. With Linux there's simply no competition. Linux scales magnificently from a low-end to high-end hardware platform with it's core written by the absolute best software development team ever assembled (i.e. Linus and the Open Source Consortium).

Windows has always been hampered by it's registry that is simply the work of the devil causing reboots at each software upgrade in addition to creating this tar-baby relationship where you have to play by their rules. This may sound like a gripe fest here and don't mean for the conversation to go in this direction but, sometimes that's what the world needs before they open their eyes to alternatives.

As much as you may want to believe that Linux is really just for algorithmic nerds that enjoy spending their time tweeking the platform to make it work, that's simply not where it's at anymore. Linux has definitely arrived as a desktop platform that is a beautiful experience from a seamless installation to utilization for all your needs with software applications that are truly best in their class.

Give it a try. If you haven't yet, or if it's been a while, I'm certain that you'll at least be impressed. Just because it's free doesn't mean that it's not better then what you otherwise have to pay for. Just because it's open source doesn't mean that you can't make a living developing apps for it. It's just a different approach. Become known for your contribution to the open source community and you'll be in high demand for paid work. Having said this, I appreciate your huge contribution with previous publications that you've provided online for free. I also have no doubt that you are sought after for your huge contributions.


Paul Duncanson

Matthew Graves

Posts: 2
Nickname: questgrave
Registered: Mar, 2014

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Mar 11, 2014 10:21 PM
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Great post. It's refreshing to see someone admired highly by myself and my peers with the same argument for Windows. I also use Windows 8, but also Ubuntu dual-boot on my desktop workstation. I have to have the Windows programs for school as well, I am a software engineering major with most work done online. I am also a game enthusiast and system builder so I went a step further and got the 8 core AMD fx-8350, with the bulk of my budget invested in high-end graphics cards. I have 3-24" monitors in "Eyefinity" mode and I will never go back to a single monitor for development or gaming. I found no problems with the transition, rarely use the metro interface but I am not bothered by it. I have plenty of friends trying to get me into the Apple ecosystem but unless/until I need to for X-Code I will keep my current setup.

Matthew Graves

Posts: 2
Nickname: questgrave
Registered: Mar, 2014

Re: Windows 8 is ... Not So Bad Posted: Mar 11, 2014 10:28 PM
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Thanks for your post Paul, It is encouraging to know people have the same thoughts and use them in real-world application. I am also of a mind to use the tools that best suit the needs of the project. Although green in development, I have had to use Windows and Linux for different projects, Both Android related but the latter a system build not an application. I have OS X running in a VM but Ubuntu and Windows dual-boot to different drives. My Windows is by far the best using 2-SSDs in Raid. The Ubuntu drive is still an old serial mechanical drive for now. I am having issues getting X-code on the VM OS X install though.

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