David Clover 7 January 2013 16:01:51
I've taken the plunge and replaced Windows 7 on my home machine with Windows 8 32-bit. It's an older AMD Athlon 64 processor 3700+ 2.21 Ghz, bought 16-Jun-2006. To make the Windows 8 system usable (and as initially installed, the Windows 8 'Modern' or 'Metro' interface simply isn't appropriate for a conventional desktop user) I've applied a few simple tweaks which have transformed the experience.
I could have installed the 64-bit version but wanted to compare what the 32-bit version did with the Windows 7 install. The installation did delete all the pre-existing programs on the machine, but kept all the personal settings and data so although it took a little while to reload everything, for the most part everything came back up properly including my MS Outlook Mailboxes and settings. It's sometimes worth starting from scratch to optimise the machine so that wasn't too much hardship.
Now that's done I have what feels like a fast, slick, and so far very robust, Windows 32-bit environment whose performance in all areas seems to surpass the previous Windows 7 build on exactly the the same hardware.
I very much like the improved approach to file backup (now called 'File History
') using Windows's 'Libraries', though I had to specifically include my drive E: files disk area into a new 'Library' to force it to use the new feature which now backs up to a 1Tb external drive. The video codecs seemed improved and there's now no 'jumping' when looking at MP4 HD video files from my camera.
'Taming' Windows 8
1. The first thing I did was to install the free Start W8 utility.
This useful piece of software has received a Microsoft Compatibility rating
and ensures that on starting, Windows 8 goes straight to the 'proper' Windows environment and not to the dreadful new 'Metro/Modern' interface. Everything you knew and loved about using Windows 7 works just like it used to. There's a wide choice of Start menu replacement utilities for Windows 8, but many seem to be over-complex for an ordinary user. However, 'Start W8'
was very simple, elegant and more than adequate.
2. Secondly I installed the 'God Mode' folder
which gives easy access to all the settings and configurations in Windows 8 from a single location. You'll rarely (if ever) need to struggle with Microsoft's nonsensical 'Charms' bar after configuring this.
I now have a fast booting machine which is available in less than 30 seconds (Windows 8 is very fast indeed to boot). I've been using Windows for 20 years and It feels very robust and efficient. I was pleased to find that the on-board network card that used to sulk and not work every time on start-up in Windows 7, fires up properly at every boot now. The only failure was a copy of IBM's Sametime 8.5.2 won't start - and IBM can't advise as it's not been tested on the platform yet. Fortunately I have a work around using IBM's new Notes 9 beta which performs flawlessly in Windows 8. I did however need to tweak the settings on my Cisco VPN installation
before it would work.
Now I rarely, if ever, have to visit the ill-conceived 'Metro/Modern' interface' other than to convince myself now and then that I still don't need it. I can use all my old software, hardware (scanners, cameras, printers etc) just as I always did. The apps supplied for the 'Metro/Modern' interface are poorly conceived and simply don't work well even in the single screen 'Microsoft Window' environment that they are nominally designed for. Jakob Neilsen's criticisms are well expressed. as are those of Phillip Greenspun
It's clear that Microsoft has taken a massive wrong turning in configuring Windows 8 for the desktop world. It's clear also, being fair, that the OS engineers have done an excellent job in bringing Windows 7 forward to version 8 as a reliable, improved and effective core platform. The wrong turning lies in the disastrous marketing decision (which I suspect many Microsoft insiders regret - especially the technically-savvy ones) to prioritise the absurd 'Metro/Modern' interface for the conventional desktop as well as for the tablet and phone.
Now I can safely regard the 'Metro/Modern' environment as an interesting but essentially non-intrusive 'sideshow' and get on productively with the things I need to do on a conventional multi-tasking Windows desktop just as I have been doing since the first version was released.
There's a long 'rant' by Brian Boyko on Windows 8
which is well worth a look. Everything Brian says about the 'Metro/Modern' interface is 100% true, but by carrying out the few tweaks mentioned above, I have safely bypassed all or most of the pain it represents and got myself a much better 'conventional' Windows desktop computer than I had before! The Windows 8 Survival Guide video
is also worth looking at, the same team's 'Windows 8: it's Almost Not Terrible
' which is less formal (and more fun).