Adventures with Windows8

Acer AspireOne SysInfo Screen Grab As an aid in evaluating the suitability of a Surface tablet for my use instead of an iPad, I've loaded Windows 8 onto my Netbook, an Acer AspireOne (mine's the 0722 model) with a AMD C60 dual core processor (at an amazing 1.0GHz!), 4GB RAM and a 320GB hard disk. It's certainly no powerhouse.

Yet, performance is surprisingly good, especially when running apps that are specifically designed for Windows8's UI. Even most of the "legacy" applications I've tried are at least as snappy as they ever were on this machine, which has always impressed me. Of course, this was almost the lowest-priced name-brand netbook on the market at the time I bought it about 9 months ago, so my expecations have never been particularly high. Yet, the AspireOne has almost always exceeded my expectations.

I have also tried to install Windows8 on my bigger "desktop replacement" Acer, but have not been successful. That's a battle for later, though.

It should be noted that Windows8 and WindowsRT are slightly different animals. While both share the same user interface, and both are really designed for use with a touch screen, WindowsRT is a "little brother" to Windows8, and is specifically written to work on the ARM processors used in the current model, low-priced Microsoft Surface hardware. Therefore, not all applications will run. Because of that, I've been careful to choose Windows8 apps that will run on ARM, so I can be as true to the Surface experience as possible, considering I'm using a computer with no touch screen. A more expensive Intel-based Surface is expected soon, which will run the full version of Windows8.

Windows8 Metro User Interface

One the Surface, there are all kinds of nifty pokes and gestures used to navigate the system, many of which are well translated to the track pad and mouse interface on the netbook. A couple, however, do take a bit of getting used to. For instance, we've all become accustomed to Alt+Tab to quickly switch between open applications, which still works under Windows8. However, the gestural way to do the same thing is to swipe inward from the left edge of the screen (or trackpad on a laptop). If you're not careful, move the pointer around the screen on a trackpad can result in an unexpected trip to the previously used app.

Windows Mail

Windows8 native apps are generally very clean in appearance. Windows8 ships with new versions of Windows Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Picture Viewer, etc. Microsoft now has an application store, much like Apple's App Store or Google's Play.

Windows Store

And, already there are thousands of apps, some of which seem to be really nice. I've found and loaded several really nice, free ones, including a couple of decent fun photo editors (nothing like a full Photoshop yet).

Windows Store Details Page

Like the App Store or Play, you can browse apps, read about them and see user reviews, and quickly and painlessly buy and install apps. The Details page for the app shows which processor(s) the app is compiled for -- x86, x64 or ARM. You can also find out whether an app is written for Metro or is a legacy Desktop App.

Windows Messenger

Microsoft has taken some pains to make Windows8 Apps play nice with others. For instance, the new Windows Messenger seamlessly integrates with Facebook and Google+ chats. Last night, for instance, I was logged into Windows Messenger using my new Hotmail account, and I had a chat with my friend Karl, who was logged into Facebook. Karl's in my contacts list, and Messenger automatically pulled in his Facebook profile picture, and on my end, it used my Hotmail profile picture.

One thing that I did have to do that was a little bit of a pain was to reinstall the drivers for my wireless mouse and all my printers. I say it was a pain, but once I learned where to do it, it was actually easier in some cases than under WindowsXP or Windows7. In particular, the network installation for my Brother laser printer was previously a chore, the printer installed automatically in a matter of minutes. Reconnecting a Bluetooth mouse and printer was nearly as painless, once I figured out that I had to (and how to) remove them from the system first.

IMG_1912

Connecting smart phones and cameras is a snap. Windows8 even recognized my horrid HTC Thunderbolt Android phone, and was ready to make it work any way I wanted, something I have yet to accomplish on Windows7 or on a Mac. Connecting my old Canon Powershot SX110is and importing photos was even easier. Taking, connecting and importing this picture took about 15 seconds, even with the camera having never been connected to the computer before (I usually import pictures from the SD card). I set the phone up for charge only by default, as I'm planning on getting a different phone in August or September, and the new phone will not be an Android device.

The current Surface devices ship with a version of Office that runs on ARM processors. I don't generally use Word or Excel for my personal work, relying instead on Google's Drive apps. But, they're only available to me when I have a WiFi or wired internet connection and the native Google app is a little clunky. I'll be anxious to see a Windows8 native Office suite -- there's not one currently available. Office 2010 is a "desktop application" that runs in legacy mode. Office 2013 will be a real Windows8 application, and I can get the upgrade at no additional cost if I buy Office 2010 now, but I'm not sure I'm up for a $150 gamble on that...

The Google app web browsing experience is a little strange, so I'm temporarily using Internet Explorer again, and I'm finding that the new version of IE is pretty nice, except for the obvious fact that it is, after all, Internet Explorer.

Windows8 Desktop

Of course, not all apps out there are using Metro yet. For those apps, or for those times when you really need to be able to poke around to find things, Windows8 still has ... Windows. Go figure, it looks pretty much like the Windows we've grown to know and ... well ... know. The one thing that is noticeably absent is the "Start" menu. For that, you hit the Windows key and go back to Metro.

Obviously, I'll keep updating this series as I try more new things with Windows8. I continue to be very impressed. I've signed up for a preview version of the Office 2013 applications, and they're installing in the background. I'll have some initial impressions on that soon.

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