I’ve given you the explanation on why you must upgrade from Windows XP sooner rather than later. I’ve also told you we were planning to upgrade a computer to Windows 8.1 in our office and how we were preparing. A few days ago I got to experience Windows 8.1 a little earlier than expected when a misbehaving laptop required a reinstall of the operating system. Rather than reinstalling Windows 7 on the laptop, I went ahead and upgraded it to Windows 8.1.
I’ve only had a few days with Windows 8.1 and wanted to share a few of my thoughts, minus some of the profanities that it caused me to utter. For those interested, this was installed on an HP laptop more than three years old. Drivers for all internal hardware installed automatically and without issues.
Where is Control Panel?
Once I got it installed, I knew I need to go into Windows Update and download all of the updates released after Windows 8.1. Without a Start menu (more on that in a minute), I knew I needed to find Control Panel. Now I’ve been using Windows since v1 and I think I can find my way around pretty darned well. Yet I couldn’t find Control Panel. Microsoft, did you really have to make this so difficult?
Yes, I did eventually find it and ran Windows Update. The funny part came a couple hours later when I was having dinner with a friend. She had gotten a new laptop about two weeks earlier that was supplied with Windows 8.1 and is a very casual computer user. I hadn’t even mentioned my problems finding Control Panel when she starting telling me the story of her inability to find Control Panel.
No Start Menu = Massive Mistake
I fully understand why Microsoft wanted to include the Metro (tiled) interface. Yes, I can see it can be useful on tablets and smartphones. But forcing it down the throats of people using a good old computer on a desktop was a mistake of massive proportions. With Windows 8.1 they claimed they were kinda sorta bringing back a Start Menu. Poppycock!
Things immediately got better for me when I installed Start8. Again, I can’t understand why Microsoft would be so stubborn to not include an interface familiar to users of any version of Windows for the past 15+ years! Now I can boot directly to the Desktop (the real computer) mode of Windows 8.1 and I have a Start menu similar to the one I’ve been using for years. For the most part, I can avoid the silly tiles that are not the least bit helpful to me.
I am certainly not the first to criticize Microsoft’s decision to leave out the Start menu and I’m sure I won’t be the last. How many millions of dollars (billions?) has Microsoft lost from users unwilling to upgrade for this one exclusion? It definitely is not a small number. Thankfully Start8 solves the problem for $5 and there other alternatives that do something similar for free.
Quit Trying to Help Me!
I got Start8 installed and got to work installing the software I needed. At some point I moved my cursor to the upper left of the screen and this annoying graphic with a big arrow popped up telling me to move all the way to the upper left and click. I did, hoping it would get rid of this message claiming to help me though it was really incredibly annoying. Even more annoying was trying to get it to go away. Doing what it requested did nothing at all. The item it claimed it would bring up never came up and the stupid message wouldn’t go away.
Thankfully I found a forum posting explaining how to get rid of these less than helpful messages. Really Microsoft, I have to edit Group Policy or tweak the registry to get this done? You couldn’t include a simple dialog box to allow us to tell these popups to take a hike? In trying to be helpful, I found I had to dig really deep so I didn’t get any more help.
I also hate the “Snap” feature included with Windows 7. If you drag a Window to the edge of the screen, that Windows is automatically expanded to full screen. No, please don’t do that! Luckily I knew it was named Snap and searched the Windows 8.1 help to find out how to disable yet another annoying feature.
Vendors Need to Provide Working Drivers
Have I ever mentioned that I love Wacom tablets? I think you’ll find a number of posts where I heap praise upon them and suggest that all designers get one. Once I had my software installed, it was time to install drivers for some of the hardware that isn’t inside of my computer. First up was the Wacom tablet. I went to the Wacom tablet and downloaded the latest driver which proclaimed it worked on Windows 8.
After installing the driver and rebooting, the driver told me no tablet was connected. What? It is most definitely connected and I can move the cursor around on screen. Unfortunately the cursor acts like a mouse and definitely not like a tablet. Wacom support was already closed for the Thanksgiving holiday so I had to find another solution. After digging through a variety of forum posts, I found the solution was to download a driver released before Windows 8. For reference, I found it was the 6.1.6-7 driver from November 2010 that worked for me.
I also had to dig to find a driver for our Sharp office printer as the vendor Web site claimed there was no driver. A third party site had a driver for Windows 7 that worked great. C’mon vendors, Windows 8 is more than a year old and you really need to do a better job of making working drivers available.
It Really is Good After Fixing It
By now you probably think I hate Windows 8.1 and that isn’t the case. I do hate that the interface changes forced upon us by Microsoft make it more difficult than it should be to get things in a workable condition. Once I get over the hurdles I’ve listed here, I’ve found that Windows 8.1 is faster than Windows 7 on this same machine. It is just too bad that all of the positive changes are overshadowed by the really bad changes.
I will also again stress that those of you who refuse to give up Windows XP really need to rethink that decision. Yes, you’ll have some sort of expense to move to a newer operating system. Yes, there will be a learning curve since you will be moving forward 2-3 operating systems depending on whether you choose Windows 7 or 8. Yet you could face even bigger costs if you remain on an operating system that is no longer supported and will be presenting hackers with a huge opportunity.