Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saying goodbye to Windows 8 and all it's mistakes

Everyone is heading over to Windows 10

windows-8-shutdown-window
Ah, it's that time of the decade again, a new version of Windows is being released and this time around, quite a huge number of people will be upgrading to the latest version of Windows. This is because Microsoft is for the first time providing a free upgrade path for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 systems to get Windows 10 at no extra charges. Provided that you previously had a genuine copy of Windows. So, with the official arrival of Windows 10, it's time to bid farewell to Windows 8/8.1.

With a mere 13% market share worldwide, Windows 8 is definitely not Microsoft's most successful version but it's not the worst too. The numbers don't lie and not many have taken their time to upgrade to Windows 8 but if you've bought a new computer in the past few years, it would most likely come pre-loaded with it.

" Windows 7 still holds 60% of the market

Technically speaking, Windows users usually don't upgrade to the latest and greatest version because it seems that the core of idea Windows hasn't technically changed (much) moving forward. Just look at the market share Windows XP had, only in recent years that both Windows 7 and Windows 8 overtook the market share of the 13 year old operating system.


Introduction

Of course, Windows 8 still had a desktop and Microsoft did not actually screw up anything about the desktop itself. Everything we knew about the Windows desktop was present on Windows 8. Aesthetically, desktop elements like the taskbar icons were given a little makeover to make it look seamless with the modern UI design throughout other parts of the operating system.

The desktop experience of Windows 8 is pretty much the same as it was back in previous version of Windows. But one thing to remember is that Microsoft only re-introduced the start button in Windows 8.1 and you need to experience it yourself to feel how awkward it was to have the bottom right corner without the start button.
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However, Windows 8 isn't about the desktop experience we're used to, it is all about the Start screen. Alongside the introduction of Windows 8, Microsoft's partners introduced several new device form factors like Lenovo's Yoga laptop with a 360 degree hinge, Dell's XPS 12 with the rotating display and not to mention Microsoft's own Surface lineup of devices.




One thing in common between these new Windows 8 devices are that they all come with a touchscreen which was seemingly Microsoft's big push with Windows 8. That didn't turn out well with keyboard and mouse users as the UI took some guessing and the wasn't a natural input type for non-touch devices. I can still remember the day I first installed Windows 8, I could not even find the shutdown button. It was cleverly hidden behind a menu in the charms bar.
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Modern (Metro) UI

With Windows 8, Microsoft made big and bold changes which revolves around their new design language which emphasizes on a flat UI. Initially called Metro UI, the name was quickly changed to Modern UI due to legal issues. The new design language was implemented into every inch of Windows 8 except for the desktop which retained it's general look from Windows 7.

Initially, Microsoft's big plan was to make Windows 8 users love the new Start screen like how Windows Phone users loved it. But that certainly didn't happen and that's how those start menu software add-ons were born. The look and feel of the Modern UI is actually quite refined but paired with the sudden interface change was a recipe for disaster.
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Of course, Modern UI was first introduced in Windows Phone and to streamline the look and feel, Microsoft brought it over to Windows 8. Modern UI is basically all about making things look flat and doing away with the three-dimensional in your face look which both Windows Vista and Windows 7 used. That also meant that Microsoft is taking away Windows Aero which gives that transparency look to open windows and also the taskbar.

Transparency does exist in Windows 8, it's just that the effect is not as strong as it was in Windows 7. The transparency effect on Windows 8 was combined with the metro UI design which blended a subtle transparent look with a color overlay for a more simplistic look.

Overall, all is not lost as Microsoft will be migrating the Modern UI into Windows 10 as an upgraded design language called Microsoft Design Language 2.0.

Start Screen

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First introduced back in Windows 95, the Start menu has seen big change in previous version of Windows but in Windows 8, Microsoft definitely made the biggest move yet by transforming the Start Menu into the Start Screen. Microsoft wanted the Start Screen to be the center stage for all you application and it would make sense if you were on a tablet but we're just not used to clicking big tiles with a mouse.

" Good thing they didn't change the taskbar, that would've been catastrophic 

In Windows 8, the Start Screen was totally geared up towards tablet usage but thankfully Microsoft solved the problem in Windows 8.1 by reintroducing the Start button into the desktop as well as including normal desktop keyboard shortcuts on the Start Screen to aid in familiarity. But the Start Screen itself is pretty much a mess and the all apps screen which is cleverly hidden continued the Windows 8 trend of horizontal scrolling.
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Just remember that Windows 8 did not come with a start button. The bottom left corner was simply just spaced out a bit and you could hover over it and a miniature start screen would appear. Initially, the response was quite chaotic which headlines staying that Microsoft is ditching the Start button first introduced in Windows 95.

But putting all the funny business aside, the Start Screen looks good as a space filler and I'm probably one of the few which actually savors the look of it. Just like on Windows Phone, I always try to make my Start Screen as nice as possible and sometimes ("sometimes") I do even open applications through it.

Charms

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If you've gone through the initial Windows 8/8.1 setup guide, you are probably a little familiar with the vertical bar or button which live on the right side of the screen. Like most Windows 8 UI elements, it's a natural gesture to open the Charms menu on a touchscreen device but not so much for a standard desktop setup with a keyboard and mouse.

" Hidden in plain sight

Sure you could get used to the 'WIN + C' command but to the everyday user, the Charms menu is still a little confusing concept (somewhat of a learning curve) given that the majority of Windows 8 users are existing Windows users. But as troublesome as it sounds like at first, now I'm very much used to using the charms menu for shutting down the computer and also doing some searches.

Again, not the best implementation for a keyboard and mouse setup but I have come to enjoy using it and I will definitely be missing it in Windows 10. I will always remember the first day I used Windows 8 and I totally had no clue on how to restart the computer.

Search

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Whilst the Start menu was abolished in Windows 8, the core search element of the Start menu was seemingly given a big upgrade in Windows 8. The search feature on Windows 8 was just as powerful as search bar integrated into the Start menu but the search results have been supercharged.

Not only is it able to find programs and files that matches your query but it is also able to search deep inside Windows Store application and also beam up results from the web. All of this data is laid out pretty nicely in a full screen view in which you can interact with the search results.

Sure, the search feature on Windows 8 is not as personal like Cortana but they two share something in common which is they're both powered by Bing.

Windows Store apps

Alongside the introduction of the Start Screen, the Windows Store was also introduced and these so called applications in the store are nothing much than apps made for Windows 8 devices with a touch display. Like seriously, it was not user friendly if you're not touching the display. Instead of doing vertical scrolling like we're used to with desktop applications, Windows Store applications utilizes horizontal scrolling.

This is another case of bad design choice by Microsoft as they were the ones who set up the design schema for Windows 8 applications. In some sense it would be a little immersive with horizontal scrolling compared to vertical scrolling as more content can technically be shown at any given time.

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The Windows Store landing page, quite a nice design i say
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As is, vertical scrolling also exists in the Windows Store itself
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Not surprising that social and media apps are topping the charts

As Windows 8 was initially thought as a tablet optimized operating system naturally, Windows Store applications would've been shown in full screen and that is for the better. And like what I said before, It's a good implementation for a tablet based system but running full screen on a big 24" monitor sound a little unproductive.

" I'm not a big fan of Windows Store apps but I do love their live tiles

Sure you could snap up to 4 applications side by side but the space for that application will always be that predetermined quadrant of space. With the snapping and all, Windows 8 loses the modularity of the desktop where applications can go anywhere on the screen. Thankfully, this problem will be solved in Windows 10 as Store applications have a modular windows like normal desktop applications.

windows-8-desktop-snapping-windows-applications
Snap em' up

Windows RT

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As controversial as Windows 8 itself, Windows RT will go down as one of the biggest mistakes Microsoft ever made. From the start, the idea of Windows RT itself sounded bad but there were still devices running Windows RT that hit the market. The best example of a Windows RT device is Microsoft's own Surface tablet which at that time was a thin and sleek tablet with a uniquely designed kickstand.

The biggest problem with Windows RT is that it did not run legacy Win32 applications like Chrome and Photoshop. You can't fully blame Microsoft for this as Windows RT was designed to run on ARM based systems and Win32 apps can only be powered by x86 CPUs. Instead, the entire operating system relied solely on the Windows Store for applications and the fact that the Windows Store (at that time) did not feature popular apps instantly degraded the value of Windows RT devices.

To think that Microsoft also included a "desktop" with Windows RT was definitely worsening the matter. Basically, the so called desktop will only run select applications like a desktop version of Internet Explorer, the Microsoft Office suite and also utility programs like the calculator.

The good news is that there is no such thing as Windows 10 RT, it's just Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10. But sadly, Microsoft has confirmed that Windows RT devices will not be upgraded to Windows 10 but an upcoming update will likely bring some Windows 10 features for Windows RT slates.
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"Surface RT - The original Microsoft tablet"
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Remember the Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet nobody owned? It ran Windows RT

Conclusion

Beyond all the headline Windows 8 features we'll be waving goodbye as we migrate to Windows 10, there are also some small things that will be a lost trend for Windows. One of them is gestures, With the departure of the Charms bar, gestures are officially history on Windows 10. You could still swipe from the left on Windows 10 to bring up the Notification Center but that's about it.

The left corner app switcher gets, swiping from left to right to switch applications and not to mention the top to bottom drag to close an application will all be non-existent on Windows 10. These gestures will forever be an exclusive feature on Windows 8. But all is not lost as Microsoft is still keeping the Windows 8 trackpad gestures and are building upon it with newer ones which are reminiscent of the ones Apple use in OSX.

Gone are the days which I will accidentally switch into another app when hovering on the top right corner, this is my problem.

Overall, the theme of Windows 8 as you can see from my words above is that the operating system was clearly catered for new Windows devices with touch devices. Mind you that before Windows 8, touchscreens never seem to exist on laptops running Windows 7. Companies did make it but, what's the point of if as the operating system was clearly not optimized for touch.

This is a case of misjudgment by Microsoft, their vision was that the future of computing was filled with touchscreen laptops but many users still preferred investing in a classic laptop with a display that wasn't built to be touched. It's clear that while developing Windows 8, Microsoft was heavily thinking about how to intercept the tablet market with computers.

Windows 8 will forever be remembered as the operating system that nobody upgraded to and as much as I like some of the features inside Windows 8, I'm ready to move on to Windows 10 as Microsoft did bring over quite a number of those features into Windows 10.
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Insider talk (out of topic)

Since windows 8.1 was a lot different compared to windows 8, I had to actually read a couple of original windows 8 reviews from 2012 to relive back the chaotic scene back then. I am still running Windows 8.1 on my main system but over time I have totally forgot what made Windows 8 different other than the introduction of the Start screen.

Yeah, maybe the next few sentences will sound like a rant. Mind me -.-"

This article was also spontaneously written, probably a first for any long-form article I have written so far this year. But, I still took some time to do the full writeup as I was somewhat caught up with some other work during this period.

This is probably one of the more "fun" article I have written and that's because I can truly express my feelings towards it as I have been using Windows 8 for quite some time now and I don't know why some just say Windows 8 sucks. The departure of the Start menu will tick people off but the desktop experience itself is pretty much the same as it was before. Maybe even better since Windows 8 does look a little better…somehow.

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