There has been a lot of buzz around Windows 8. About a year ago I was given a half-built PC tower, which I finished off building and gave to my kids. I decided to take advantage of cheap Windows 8 upgrade offer from Microsoft – but is it an upgrade?
This was a 2 GHz Core 2 Duo tower with 3 GB RAM and originally had an nVidia GeForce 8200GS video card, which I recently swapped out for an AMD Radeon HD 5450 with 1 GB video RAM. It ran Windows XP very nicely. Then I picked up Windows Vista, and despite its bad reputation it ran very well, especially the 64-bit edition.
So how about Windows 8?
Getting Windows 8
Let’s start at the beginning of the whole experience. To qualify for the cheap deal, you need to use the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant. You need to run it on the machine you want to upgrade. This verifies that your machine qualifies for the cheap deal and then downloads the files needed. Once downloaded, it gives you the option to save an ISO or create a bootable USB stick, which is what I did.
This process didn’t go smoothly for me. The “creating files” failed and locked up my machine several times. I had to create a new user and restart the download/creating process for it to work. Making the USB stick took a fair amount of time too – considering it is only a 2 GB file.
The installation process was one of the smoothest and quickest I have seen for Windows. It is also fairly unattended. I booted from the USB drive, the installer started, and I was shortly faced by a language option and then a drive partition window. I picked which drive I wanted to install to, formatted it and set the installer. Then I sat back and waited.
15 minutes later. I was being asked for my wireless password – it had detected and installed drivers for my USB wireless adapter throughout the installation process. I logged in to my network and then set up my colour scheme and user account. That was it.
I have used every version of Windows since 3.11 and – despite being a prominent Mac user – do keep my fingers in the Windows world. As the tech support for my household, building, setting up, and maintaining Windows machines for other family members keeps me fairly up-to-date.
Windows 8 is a totally different look compared to previous versions. The first thing you will notice (and have heard about) is the new tile system, previously called Metro, that you are greeted with on boot up. This is your main interface, and it takes a bit of getting used to.
Here you will find live tiles that update with new content – such as news updates, Twitter, and Facebook feeds – as well as big button shortcuts to your apps. It is a giant full screen Start Menu. If you want access to all your apps, right click on the background, and a bar appears at the bottom with a button saying “All Apps”, which reveals a long list of software already installed on your computer.
Click in the bottom left, and you get back your semi-familiar Windows desktop, but you will notice it has no Start Menu, something that has been there since Windows 95. Hovering your mouse to the left, where the Start Menu used to be, will pop up a thumbnail of your giant full screen tile interface, and clicking will bring it back.
Whilst in desktop mode, you have access to your regular look OS with your taskbar at the bottom. Hovering to the top right you will reveal a slide-out menu. This is where things get odd: This slide-out menu will change depending what screen or app you are in. It will give you Search and Settings amongst a few other items.
That is about it. Once you get your head around this twin interface with a few trusty fixtures and fittings moved or removed, you can start to enjoy and work your way round the new OS.
Windows 8 is a very bright and vibrant looking OS. The tile interface is big and bold, and the desktop takes the darker more serious look of Vista and 7 and gives it a more updated bold Windows XP look. This is especially noticeable around window edges and dialogue boxes.
The clean, crisp, semi-transparent rounded boxes and pop-ups of Vista and 7 that used Aero have been flattened, squared, and given a childish look.
The first thing I noticed was how fast Windows 8 is. It is a rare thing these days that a new version of an OS is faster than previous ones.
This machine is no snail. It originally had Windows XP on it, and it was a fast machine for running Windows XP. Then I installed Vista for a more modern look and while it was still pretty fast, Vista is a memory and system resource hog, even on a machine with high specs.
Windows 8 turned this around. It is blisteringly fast. It boots in under 15 seconds, and apps load instantly.
Why Am I Talking About Windows?
You might think this is an odd article for a Mac site, but a lot of Mac users live and work in mixed OS environments. Intel Macs can natively boot Windows, and with Apple dropping perfectly good hardware from its new versions of Mac OS X, Windows might be an option for some.
Microsoft claims the minimum spec for Windows 8 is a 1 GHz Pentium 4 with 1 GB RAM for the 32-bit version (or 2 GB for the 64-bit version) and around 20 GB hard drive space. That covers Windows machines running back to the year 2000. I doubt that it will run amazingly well on hardware that old, but at least it will run.
When Apple introduced the Intel Macs in 2006, it started with 1.83 GHz Core Duo machines maxxing at 2 GB RAM. These won’t run Mac OS X 10.7 Lion or 10.8 Mountain Lion (as these require a Core 2 Duo machine), but these will happily run the latest offering from Microsoft. Even the paltry 1.5 GHz Core Solo Mac mini, which struggles with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, should run Windows 8 fairly well.
Running Windows on your Mac may not be ideal, but it does mean your “Vintage Mac” (a term used by Apple and MacTracker) can still run a new OS – even if it is from the competition.
Of course you could dual boot this new version of Windows with Mac OS X Snow Leopard and boot to Windows when there is something unsupported in your version of OS X.
Would I Recommend It?
This is a two-edged question.
Would I recommend Windows 8 over Mac OS X? Never. Mac OS X is slick, fast, intuitive, extremely stable, and a joy to use. Apple may not have overhauled Mac OS X since its inception in 2000, however that doesn’t mean it is old or outdated looking. The minor changes and tweaks have been welcome on an already fantastic OS.
However, if Windows is your thing and you already have a Windows machine, I would recommend it, despite its childish look and funny new interface. I would recommend it purely on its extreme speed.
However, I do fail to see how this will fit in to the corporate world. Windows 8 does not look very professional, and I can see the tile interface getting in the way.
There are a number of hacks online to make the desktop the default you boot to and also bring back the “old” Start Menu – this may be something to look at.
After testing out this new offering from Microsoft, I can hand it over to my children, then happily jump back on my Mac and breathe a sigh of relief. Windows 8 might be fast and good, but it’s not for me full time.