Saturday, April 20, 2013

Windows 8 from the point of view of a Mac user

So I should mention before anything else that I use Windows 8 just for fun. I work all week on my Retina MacBook Pro in OS X, and on evenings and weekends - when I want to play World of Tanks - I reboot into Windows. That's about it. Make money on OS X, have fun in Windows. It's kinda like the opposite of how it was in the 90's (working in Windows, coming home to Mac).


So today when I launched World of Tanks, I realized I was in a bit of a rut, tank-wise. Quite a bit of XP in order to get the next set of tanks. What does that mean? Windows 8 upgrade time!


I was able to do the thing all online. $200. I would've liked to have stepped down from my Win 7 Pro down to Win 8 Home - I mean, all I do is game in the thing. Why do I need pro? But it didn't give me a chance. Upgrade assistant was pretty reasonable. It complained at me for not having enough space - I uninstalled some Steam games to make room, and when I flipped back to the Assistant window, it had moved along to the next screen. Not bad.


As my friend Beckley and I have been discussing - Microsoft is throwing money away not making it easier for Mac people to get Windows. And making it way too expensive. If they put up an app in the App Store (presumably with Apple's buy-in) they could put a $99 price tag on it and make some nice money. At higher margins than OEM licenses! But they're dumb and short-sighted about things like that. Oh well.


Anyways, it still takes quite a few reboots for the install to complete. That was unexpected - but I guess that's me not remembering my Windows-fu. Kept having to hold down the Option (alt) key to get it to boot into Windows. It threw me into a setup assistant and I somehow managed to inadvertently hook up my Xbox account to my Windows login. Freaky, but why not.


I ended up hooking up my Metro Home screen to my Facebook account too, as well as my Xbox account. I was surprised to see Xbox avatars for all of my friends pop up - relatively easily accessible from the home screen as I clicked around. I had to download some updates and the process was not as buttery as possible, but still not bad at all. My FB friends are around too. Again, not too terrible. Hooked in two of my three Gmail accounts into the Mail app. In the end, I had a brand new view of all kinds of 'live tiles' giving me a newfangled view of my PC.


The Start button in Windows has always been a disaster for me - it contained a billion things I didn't care about, and 3 that I did. And when it had a scrolling view it was even worse. And that one view where it 'automatically' optimized where everything went? Even more of a disaster. So in Windows 8, Metro completely replaces the Start Menu. This new one actually makes sense to me. The three things I want to find? Right there, staring me in the face. I want to move them around? Easy and obvious. The one place it consistently throws me for a loop is when I want to find something that I would normally have to dig through the lesser-used folders in the Start menu to find (Start -> Program Files->SomeStupidCompanyName->DumbUtility...). That's where my muscle-memory gets in the way. I can't find something, I hit the 'command' key (Windows key) and the Metro screen comes up -> I can't find what I'm looking for -> I click on Desktop-> I still can't find what I'm looking for -> hit the Windows key again...


The 'flat' look seems timeless to me. Reminiscent of Star Trek:TNG's LCARS pseudo-OS. No excessive curves and embossing and rounded edges and so on. Just really clean and flat. It starts to fall down a little bit when you look at Legacy Windows things - they look a little odd - trying to be flat like Metro but inheriting all the Windows baggage. And lots of things that are buttons don't look Buttoney. So I can imagine I will find myself in a position where I have to scrub my mouse around to see if things are clickable all the time. That will certainly cause some level of UI-fail. It'll be even worse on a touchscreen machine.


I'm even using IE10 (!) Because it shows up better on my Retina screen. I tried Google Chrome in 'Windows 8 mode' and it was ok - but the text was showing up too small. IE actually is not bad. I'm completely shocked by this. The font rendering still looks a touch off to me - some parts of letters look too thin maybe? I can't put my finger on it. But I can read the screen, and that's a nice start.


In the end, my feelings about the look/feel of the thing? I don't see why everyone is all up in arms. It's actually kinda futuristic-looking, IMHO. I actually find it very pleasant. Of course, I'm a bit of a contrarian - when I first used Windows Vista it didn't bother me as much as it seemed to bother everyone else. And when I first used Windows 7 I didn't think it was so super amazingly awesome like everyone else did. So take that into account. And also take into account - the only things I do in Windows are: play games, test things in IE, and poke around. I don't usually try too hard to get much work done.


But as always, the devil is in the Details. And that's where Apple tends to really knock things out of the park, and where Microsoft tends to fumble. Especially when I click on something that's "classic" Windows from something that's Metro, things feel janky and weird and awkward. The tile layouts in the 'top free' and 'top paid' sections of the App store are awful and useless. I can't search the store either; if you don't click on one of the 'suggested' apps, you're screwed. The Skype integration seemed exciting - but then it was insisting on doing some kind of account merge that I didn't want it to do. I still can't figure out how to add a third email account. I can't get number of unread messages to show up in the email tiles. It's hard to get apps to show up in the Metro panel thingee if they aren't there already. Or if you (ahem) accidentally 'unpin' one (oops!). My Hipchat (Adobe Air) app was all messed up and confused and it took quite a bit of cajoling to get it so I could have a normal window on my screen. (That could be Adobe's fault, or HipChat's fault, or Microsoft's fault. Not sure.) As I continue to play with it, I'm sure I'll find more to complain about. I couldn't figure out how to open multiple windows in the Metro version of IE10 until I was doing final edits of this article (right-clicking somewhere plain on the page seems to bring up a contextual menu?)


But in the end I think Microsoft is trying some really clever stuff here. I think this Metro stuff really is the future. Apple broke with OS X precedent when it made iOS; and I think Microsoft is trying to do the same thing here with Win8/Metro. And in the same way people were up in arms and completely freaked out when Apple first removed the Floppy drive - and then later, the CDROM - I think that's how the typical Microsoft person is responding to Metro.


I think Microsoft has latched on to Apple's "Halo Effect" strategy. Apple had the iPod, and the iPod "Halo" started to cause a boost in Mac sales (and lead to the iPhone and iPad). Analogously, Microsoft has the Xbox. Perhaps, from this Xbox Halo, they can start to rebuild the strength of their Windows empire? Maybe. But remember - Microsoft is adopting Apple's strategy here. And Microsoft was very good at taking someone else's idea or product, imitating it, iterating a few versions of it, throwing in some dubious business practices, and then coming up with something that actually starts to crush the competition. They might be trying that again here. Though they haven't really pulled that off in a while, I think.


My bet is that Microsoft-users will continue to whine and bitch and moan about how terrible and awful Windows 8 is. And we'll have a service pack or two come out, and then maybe some kind of interim release - and then maybe people will get used to it and move along.


I think, most importantly, that if they didn't obsolete themselves with Metro, someone else - probably Apple - would've done it for them. So they really had no choice.

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