I’ve been using Windows 8 on a test machine for about three months, upgrading to the preview version when it came out about a month ago. When the preview version of Office 2013 was announced, I loaded that too. I’ve now reached some preliminary conclusions.
Both the new operating system and the new office suite are fairly reliable, although after about a week of use, my Outlook 2013 client lost its ability to communicate with the Exchange server, failing silently. I’ve not been able to fix this; I suspect it will take an uninstall/reinstall.
I have serious misgivings about Microsoft’s merging of the operating system for palmtop and desktop devices. The new Metro interface makes a lot of sense for handheld devices with small screens, but is more problematical for workstation use. Although you can use Metro with a mouse, it seems like it’s designed with multitouch screens in mind. Even if I had a 30 inch multitouch screen on my desktop, it would be pure misery to spend hours at a time with my arms stretched out in front of me.
Before the mouse was widely used on computers, we had a device called a light pen, which you held up to the screen to tell the computer what you wanted to point at. It was fine as far as it went, but you couldn’t spend more than 15 or 20 minutes holding the pen up in the air before your arm gave out. Metro on the desktop seems to be turning the clock back to the bad old days.
Fortunately, you don’t have to use Metro with Windows 8, except to do a few common functions. In their zeal to promote the new operating system, Microsoft has removed the “pearl” from the lower left corner of the screen, and they make you go back to Metro to access many of the functions that you get to with that button in Windows 7.
Many small applications that ship with the operating system haven’t been Metro-ized, so you often thrown jarringly back to the new Windows desktop.
My biggest problem with the new operating system is its conception. It seems like Microsoft has bought the Apple story, and is trying to emulate them in every way. Windows 8, like IOS, is resolutely web oriented, requiring the web for many services. For example, you need to sign up with the Microsoft cloud services to activate many of the small applications that come with the operating system. Windows 8, like OS X and IOS, does many things silently and opaquely, so it’s hard to figure out what it’s doing sometimes. Apple has always had the idea of hiding the complexity of the operating system, which makes it easier for neophytes and more difficult for sophisticated users; now Microsoft is proceeding in that direction.
With IOS, Apple bundled many Web services with the operating system in an attempt to a) simplify the user’s life, and b) make it hard for the user to go to another operating system. With Windows 8, Microsoft attempts to do the same thing.
The most popular Office 2013 applications – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook – have not been Metro-ized. There are small improvements, and I think it’s a reasonable upgrade. The installation process is much quicker than any Office version in the last 10 years. The reason for this is that Microsoft has set it up so that only a skeleton version of Office is initially installed, letting the program go out to the web whenever the user asks for a feature that’s not been downloaded yet.
All in all, I’m not looking forward to installing Windows 8 on my desktop computers. I will probably buy a Windows 8 laptop with a multitouch screen when they become available in profusion, and use that as a vehicle to get to really know the operating system. I’m not in a real hurry for Office 2013, but will probably break down and install it on my desktops when the gold version has been out for about six months.