Windows 8 Review, part II

Part 2: considerations, configuration

The system requirements for Windows 8 have remained unchanged from that of Windows 7. In fact, I would be as brave as to suggest that it will run faster on even older hardware than Windows 7 could ever dream, though this statement cannot be said too boldly as each system is different in design. I have Windows 8 running on each of my computers: A 2010-era Macbook pro 13″ with a 2.4 GHz processor and 4 GB of ram, a 2009-esk Toshiba netbook with an atom CPU and 2 GB of ram, and my latest 2011 Mac Mini with it’s dual-core 2.3 GHz Sandy Bridge processor. In addition, I installed the OS on my Thinkpad x201, which sports a 2.3 GHz older core i3. On all of these systems, the operating system ran beautifully, without any major hardware incompatibility issues. Systems which used bootcamp (the 2 Macs), do feature a few glitches, which will be detailed later. I expect that Apple will release a new version of the Bootcamp tools sooner than later, allowing for a much smoother transition for those who are freshly starting with installation.

On netbook systems, Windows 8 performs worse than Windows 7. Key presses take some heavy lag, and the system feels like a bird trying to flop with broken wings. Furthermore, one is unable to run any of the metro apps (more on these in the next part), due to the low resolution screens which Netbooks contain. This situation may be slightly better on the later dual-core models, however unfortunately the netbook generation has passed long ago.

Clearing up the confusion: Windows 8 editions

Before I go into great details on how the install process works for Windows 8, I want to relieve some of the confusions which will undoubtedly exist amongst newcomers. Windows 8 technically comes in 3 flavors: Windows 8, Windows 8 pro, and Windows 8 RT. Windows 8 RT is something which no person can purchase, at least not in an installable form. One of Microsoft’s greatest shifts with Windows 8 is their support of a completely different type of computer form, the tablet. Tablets run on a different type of CPU, called an ARM processor. Windows 8 RT is designed for these computers, and comes pre-installed on them after purchase.

The confusions will greatly stem from differentiating between the 2 “main” versions of Windows 8, and the RT release. Specifically, all 3 of these support Microsoft’s new metro design, however some Windows tablets cannot run regular desktop programs. Instead, the only place you will be able to install apps on these tablets will be the Windows store. The major confusion is in play with the way Microsoft is planning on selling both RT and regular Windows tablets. One of these (RT) is based on this arm processor, while the other, those tablets which run standard Windows 8 and pro versions, use the same internals as found in any desktop or laptop. In terms of marketing, both of these device classes run a Windows 8 interface, complete with even the desktop and programs such as notepad, wordpad, and paint. For consumers and readers like yourself, though, some disappointment might come in the form of believing that desktop programs can be run on a tablet, when in reality it might fail to start at all due to the processor difference. I will delve deeper into the Metro experience later on in the review, however it is sufficient to say that the confusion which we will see from this non-separation of windows 8 devices will be massive.

The difference between Windows 8 and Windows 8 pro are trivial at best. One does not support bitlocker, among domain joining and other tools. Just as in the XP days, consumers should not worry too much on which they get, as even the standard form of Windows 8 will be able to have all the tasks consumers would want to achieve. If you are a Media center user, however, you will only be able to install the Media center feature pack when running pro. The same goes for if you wish to use remote desktop as a host, boot from a virtual hard disk, and use hyper-v to virtualize older Windows versions. I suspect that most probably don’t even have to worry about these features.

Installation: Streamlined for Efficiency.

While the Windows 8 installer works similarly to the way older versions of Windows installed under the hood, Microsoft has placed considerable effort into making the setup process easier to understand, even for new users. Once you launch the dvd from within an older version of Windows, you are presented with a simple dialog, where you can click install now to begin setup.

For the first time, Microsoft is also offering a web installer for Windows 8. This utility downloads all the files, and automatically inserts your product key, so you are not asked for it during installation. Chances are that most people will use this installer instead, especially when purchasing a windows 8 upgrade key or an online copy of Windows 8. This is the beginning of a shift towards web-installers, similar to the way Apple only offers Mac OS through an app store. If you purchased Windows 8 through Microsoft, the setup files are automatically downloaded to your computer. The wizard gives you the ability to either save Windows 8 as an ISO, or to install right away. It also appears as though the product key which is given for upgrades can be used for a custom install of Windows 8, with the usual license agreement limitation of only activating it on one computer at a time.

Once you are in the setup window, you are asked if you wish to install updates for install. Afterwards, you are asked for a product key if you used the dvd-based install.

Still Running a good old copy of Windows XP? Fear not, as Windows 8 will actually allow you to migrate your personal files and documents from xp to the new OS. Depending on the version of Windows you are running, you can be presented with 3 different options:

Keep personal files – this one allows you to have every item from your documents and music/pictures to be transferred over from your version of Windows.

Keep personal files, apps, and settings: This could be considered the standard upgrade process. It will migrate not only your settings, but also any programs which you might have installed. Please note that the compatibility wizard will look for any applications which potentially will not work on Windows 8, prompting you to remove them before continuing. This includes most screen readers if you are blind, along with possible antivirus programs.

The last option, Keep nothing, will place your old version of Windows in windows.old, allowing you to remove it later after manually transferring settings.

Of course, a custom install is still possible, though you will have to either run setup by booting your DVD copy or by opening the install.exe file in the sources directory of the DVD. Yes, Windows 8 actually includes 2 installers: One which is the standard “new-style” seup, and another which is based off the older Windows 7-style installer. Here, you are presented with a partition list just as before, and Windows will still be moved to a windows.old folder. This is the best option for those who wish to install from under a current Windows release, especially for those who have no sight and might find it difficult to talk with a sighted person through the setup process. Problems could arise for those who used a web installer, as to my knowledge, there is no way to manually run the more “advanced” form of setup. Should you wish to install to a different partition than your current one, you will have to acquire the windows 8 dvd iso image and use your purchased product key. Otherwise, choosing “keep nothing” will override your existing install just as if you were to select your main partition in the old-fashioned setup. Having 2 installers is a confusing mess no doubt, though most users who wish to perform a custom setup will opt for booting the dvd instead of doing this inside of Windows. For those who rely on screen readers, this is a rather impossible option, as no speech or magnification is usable when running from the dvd.

Windows will restart a few times during the installation, which should take approximately 15-20 minutes to complete. In fact, installing Windows 8 is equal to, if not less, than installing Windows 7. Even the out of box setup experience, which is the stage you get to next, has been greatly simplified. While a screen reader or magnifier is not available when booting from a DVD of Windows 8, it can be launched during this second stage of install. Simply hit Windows U, or Windows + Volume up to launch narrator.
Coincidentally, this is also the stage of setup you will be at if you just purchased a Windows 8 PC or Tablet, allowing you to easily enter your initial settings. You have the choice of either an express or custom setup path. With express setup, you simply setup your account and computer name, and are good to go. Custom, on the other hand, will allow you to set options such as using location services, user account picture and colors, along with notification settings. By default, these are all set on, though you can always change them in PC Settings.

With Windows 8, it is highly recommended that you use a Microsoft account to sign in. The release of this operating system marks a new age in cloud computing for Windows, and Microsoft is dropping all instances of the Live name. You could still choose “local account” to create a user account which is not linked to any cloud service. Even if you decide to go with a Microsoft ID-based user account, it’s files will still be kept on your computer. This means that should your computer be offline, you can still log into Windows with your Microsoft password, and your changes will sync online the next time you connect. The content which syncs to online is highly diverse – including desktop settings, wallpaper, new apps downloaded an their settings, and even small options such as installed keyboard layouts. If you have another Windows 8-based computer, these changes will be automatically pushed to it, which will make your experience of switching computers more seamless.
Once setup has completed, you will be placed into the new “metro” environment, where a grid of icons shows the apps on your computer. What is this new start screen and interface all about? Find out in Part 3!

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