Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Windows 8 Plunge

Technology has been very good to me in my professional life and although I don't believe my employer will be migrating to Windows 8 any time soon, I enjoy dabbling with technology and this interest ties nicely to my interest in blogging.  For the purpose of this blog, I will organize my thoughts into 3 sections, The Buying Decision, The Install and Initial Impressions.

The Buying Decision

The decision to purchase Windows 8 was a tough call for me.  Although as I state in my introduction, I enjoy technology, my budget is tight (daughter in college and heavy medical expenses this year) and it was a close call to spend the $40.00.  As many are aware, Microsoft is offering an upgrade special of $39.99 via download.  Given my budget I don't think I would have spent the $40 for the download, but Staples was there to tease me with a coupon via email to purchase the actual media for $39.99.  This tipped the buying decision for me as I always prefer to have the install disks on hand.  Additionally, when you buy the media (as opposed to the download), you are provided with the disks for both 32 and 64 bit versions of Windows 8 which was a much better fit for my needs as I was uncertain which computer would receive the permanent installation of Windows 8.

The Install

My first decision was to identify which computer I would want Windows 8 permanently installed on and in my case, I had 2 candidates.  The first laptop is "old faithful," and is a $300 laptop that I bought at Walmart several years back, running Windows Vista with 3gb RAM.  This laptop definitely would use the 32 bit version of Windows 8.  The model of this machine is CQ60-419WM and although considered a "budget" computer and still running Vista, I really love it.  It is reliable, has a great easy to read 17" screen and I believe a potentially overlooked benefit of a slow processor is that it runs cooler and does not heat up my lap as much as my faster machine.  "Old faithful" has been my "go to" machine and while it's dated Vista operating system may seem to point to it being the obvious choice, there were other considerations.  Many years of documents have been saved to this computer, my entire CD library has been saved in MP3 format via iTunes (which has been backed up) and I have also installed other programs such as Android software development kit (SDK) and I did not relish the extra effort required to address the years of accumulation.

On the other hand, I have my faster machine (HP Pavililion dv5), "Craig's list" machine, with 4gb RAM that had been updated with Windows 7 Ultimate.  It's original operating machine was a 64 bit version of Vista which coupled with the amount of memory suggests that Windows 8 64 bit version would be the best choice for that machine.  At one time, this machine has some issues with the display which I was ultimately able to repair using Google research.  While this machine speeds along like a rocket, it also feels hot in the lap so this coupled with the display issue has resulted in this machine historically being my second choice.

As with any venture such as this, step 1 is always a fresh Google search to skim the experiences of others.  Along with this effort, I stumbled on the idea of a "dual boot" computer - instead of wiping out either computer, why not just install Windows 8 on a trial basis side with side with the existing operating system.  I also learned that both Vista and Windows 7 include a utility that allows you to resize your partition and create a new partition which can be used for your new operating system.  So it was that, I ultimately decided to do an initial install on my "Craig's list" machine by re-sizing the existing Windows 7 partition.

As "dual boot" installs can be tricky, I continued my Google research on the install.  The very limited installation instructions that are provided within the boxed media is not sufficient for this choice.  I stumbled on this post by Sharif Sakr, which I found to be a very helpful guide to achieving this goal.  Two key points which I found essential are to 1.  boot from the disk and 2. be patient (it takes a little while for the install disk to start the machine and load).

I almost feel as though I am letting my readers down by saying this, but upon following the guidance from this post, the install was painless and relatively speedy.  That's right, no horror story of searching for drivers, no malfunctions immediately detected... Windows 8 even found and installed my wireless Internet connection.  My only one "complaint" would be that to get the full benefit out of Windows 8, you need to create a Windows account and in creating this account, Microsoft insists on you providing your date of birth.  I'm not clear why this is necessary and in this age of identity theft, I found this discomforting and as a result, I lied in responding to this question.

Initial Impressions

If there is ever a time when a "quick start tutorial" would be appreciated, this would be one of those times.  Windows 8 is a drastic departure from earlier versions of Windows and if I had not skimmed some reading in regards to what to expect, I would have been totally lost.  As many others have already reported, the well known "Start" button is gone in Windows 8 and I believe many users will initially be stumped with a "what do I do next" initial experience.  Fortunately, I had skimmed Ed Bott's Windows 8 Head Start prior to my Windows 8 voyage and I would definitely recommend an advance read of some sort.

Another omission that I would point to in considering a migration to Windows 8 is that Windows 8 does NOT include Media Center.  For a limited time, Microsoft is offering it free as a promotion to Windows 8 Pro; however, thereafter this will be an extra charge.  My intuition is that many users of Vista and Windows 7 have grown accustomed to this feature and in some ways they may feel that they are now getting less instead of getting more by "upgrading" to Windows 8.  Likewise, I suspect that any user who has a computer with a DVD expects that they should be able to watch DVDs on their computer.

I had timed and reported the boot ups of Linux versus my Windows XP desktops in an earlier post.  While my "Craig's list" laptop that I installed Windows 8 onto has much superior hardware than my XP systems, I thought it would be an interesting measure nonetheless.  My initial timing of Windows 8 (64 bit) clocked in around 30 seconds which is very respectable.  Just for fun I thought I would time the Windows 7 (32 bit) start up and this is where I experienced a notable hiccup.  Initially the machine choked on the attempted Windows 7 boot and I had to re-boot.  Then I was cast into the Check Disk utility and had to work through this utility.  Eventually, I was able to reboot and get Windows 7 to boot successively.  In doing so, I found that the boot times greatly increased for both Windows 7 and Windows 8 if the other operating system had been previously booted.  For example if I booted into Windows 8 and Windows 8 had been the operating system that was used in the prior boot, I would get the fast 30 second boot up.  If Windows 7 had previously been running and I booted Windows 8, then Windows 8 boot up would take about a minute and a half.  Similarly, if Windows 8 had been running and then I booted Windows 7, I would find that Windows 7 would take over 2 minutes to boot; whereas if Windows 7 had been running and then I booted Windows 7  again, Windows 7 would boot in about a minute and 20 seconds or so.  Regardless, my testing suggests that Windows 8 will boot up quicker than Windows 7 and certainly much quicker than Windows Vista.

Although I have not found a compelling reason for the typical user to pay for this upgrade, I am looking forward to exploring and trying some of the "apps" that are now available or will become available for Windows 8.  My goal is to enjoy learning this new toy for the next 3 to 9 months, then I will plan to follow up with a new post on this blog to reflect on my experience.

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