Monday, August 5, 2013

A Brief Date with Windows 8

As a gift from my sister, I was able to buy a new laptop, and I can say I got a bargain with an HP ProBook 4445s; with nice specs and clean design, I call it my weapon of choice and am very happy with it. Depending on how you look at it, blessed or cursed, it's already installed with Windows 8.

For me it was a blessing, at least initially, since it's been some time since I last used a legitimate copy of Windows, add to that this is a brand new version, so support for new and related software is abundant. This is the first Windows version I used where I never encountered the dreaded and legendary its-a-feature-not-a-bug BSOD aka Blue Screen of Death, but it doesn't mean I never force rebooted it, there were still instances when it hangs but it was rare and the incidents were far in between. Frankly, I was starting to doubt whether free and open source platforms, like the gazillion GNU/Linux-based distributions and BSDs, will have anything worthwhile to offer when Windows 8 and its stability and performance improved.

Having no access to other legitimate proprietary software, I opted to use free and open source applications like LibreOffice, GIMP, Inkscape and the like. This is where PortableApps really shine and make the use of Windows 8 pleasurable for the time being.

The Antivirus Hocus Pocus

Imagine meeting two guys, let's name them Cheech and Chong (not to be confused with the real Cheech and Chong), and let's say you have to choose only one of them as companion, maybe for a hike or any activity that you will eventually need assistance. The catch is that Cheech may not seem sickly but requires consistent shot of medicine to be functional while Chong is in pink of health, who would you choose? Practically, you most likely will have chosen Chong over Cheech, since having a sickly companion from the start would be an inconvenience, nothing short of liability and they'd rather need assistance than provide one.

This analogy also applies to operating systems, if they need constant care, such as requirement for anti-virus and consistent anti-virus update, arguably security, stability, functionality and performance will eventually fall on the wayside.

The conspiracy theorist in me believes Microsoft Windows will always have anti-viruses required, most if not all anti-virus manufacturers are their partners (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), and they paid Microsoft to advertise their software to us.

The Interface That Launched a Thousand Complaints

Speaking without nostalgia, the old Macintosh user interface (UI) is probably the closest to user-friendly interface on the planet, there are admittedly short-comings but it wasn't just "good enough", it was excellent in being elegantly simple as it is.

Volumes have been written about the negative feedback Windows 8 got from outraged customers. Aside from those concerns, I have my own set of complaints (also applies to Windows 7). To get one of my point across, let me illustrate a very simple but irritating UI problem. What problem do you see on these UI screenshots of the Windows 8?

Can you tell why Mac OS X suffers from it too?

In contrast to the Windows 8 (where the window control buttons are grouped on the right) and current Mac OS X (where the window control buttons are grouped on the left, probably to break Mac OS tradition and to be different for difference's sake against Windows), observe how the window closing button is far from the other buttons like minimize and/or maximize in Mac OS Classic.

Classic really never goes out of style

You will never mistake a click for minimizing or maximizing the window for closing it. It's a small difference, but in the hands of the user, especially when they're dealing with critical information, this mistake can spell for an opportunity lost that can be costly.

The Windows 8 (and even Windows 7), aside from the atrocity of the grouping of window control buttons, has another offense: the title bar is too high for its own good, leaving less space for more important things like the content of the window, needing you to re-size the window often just to have a better view of the content.

Then there's the time when you don't want to re-size the window and it does behave opposite to your expectation, many among us have been frustrated with this, but for reasons unknown, we tend just live with it, hoping it won't happen again, maybe hoping in the next version, it's fixed or better, but also knowing at the back of your mind that it's business as usual for the producer of the Windows and you're not spared a cent and must pay to get that supposedly better version.

The two-finger gesture is a feature popularized by Apple and imitated since then by Windows 7, but in Windows 8, its behaviour is reversed, adding to the frustration.

Insult of the Pre-Installed

You can call me ego-centric but when I bought the computer with Windows 8, the default user is anybody but me, and it's a gripe I can't get over with; I bought the computer with hard earned cash, but it doesn't recognize that by at least having it display my name as the owner of the computer Windows 8 runs on. If you want to savor the experience of Microsoft philosophy, Windows 8 is the best expression of that, as a pre-installed system, the message is: you bought the computer, but you can't and never will own it as long as Windows 8 is the operating system.

The worst part about the pre-installed Windows 8? There is no way for you to re-install it to suit your terms, at least not until you buy the installer, the pre-installed Windows 8 is a bait-and-hook, which is very displeasing.

The UEFI, the SecureBoot and the Iffy Hardware

I'm used to mixed environment computing, preferring to use two or more platforms, dual-boot is common and makes sense, but not when Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is around and in force.

UEFI, especially with SecureBoot, makes booting the machine very slow and dual-boot unfriendly. I'm not sure if UEFI will be available to desktop machines and if the reaction of OpenBSD's Theo de Raadt is any indication, it should never ever be, even in laptops as UEFI is just a way for Intel, and now Microsoft's way of squeezing the life juice out of the free and open source operating systems, and maintain their status quo and monopoly in the IT industry.

I was supposed to have to use the laptop on a WYBWYG (What-You-Buy-is-What-You-Get) principle, but being tech-savvy to some degree, I'm a control freak especially over computing devices I get my hands on and it matters more to me than anything.

I tried multiple times to make my UEFI-capable laptop dual boot, in the hopes of having the best of both worlds, the convenience of having Windows 8, so I can run Windows-specific applications and GNU/Linux, for web application development. The crux is that Windows 8 will only work in UEFI and optionally SecureBoot environment while free and open source systems, like GNU/Linux and BSDs are only bootable in Legacy mode.

The Dilemma

Nostalgically, maybe old habits die hard, and in this case, what I do in Windows 8 can also be done in Linux and/or BSDs, but what I can do with Linux and BSDs, takes extra effort when worked on in Windows, even in the brand new, (supposedly) improved and vitamin-enriched Windows 8. Even mundane tasks like web browsing, reading e-books, word processing, spreadsheet calculations and presentation creation is now possible and just as easy, if not easier (and faster) with free and open source systems.

Given the situation that I'm torn between using legitimate Windows 8 and productivity offered by free and open source platforms, I was forced to choose only one since UEFI does not allow dual-booting with systems I need to get more work done.

Consequently, Windows 8 might have improved in stability and performance, almost at par with free and open source operating systems, but having no way to dual boot, leaves no room to compare them on the same hardware on a one-on-one basis. Windows 8 and UEFI practically locked everyone out in pursuit of ridding themselves of competition.

Moving On, the Post-Traumatic Journey

I think the early decision to use mostly free and open source applications within Windows 8, made the move to free and open source platform a smooth one. The challenge was choosing which platform to choose from the array of three or more options: OpenBSD 5.3, OpenSUSE 12.3 and between Ubuntu 12.04 and 13.04.

My platform of choice from the start was OpenBSD, but in terms of maximizing the support for hardware, specifically in this case, I have to put it aside with a heavy heart.

The Ubuntu installers initially can't properly install on my laptop, but once the OpenSUSE cracked the MBR of the laptop, provided that the firmware is in Legacy mode, not in any UEFI setup, the installation of any Linux distribution was possible and the installed OS is now bootable. In UEFI mode, you can install but you can't boot on anything other than Windows 8. I settled for Ubuntu 13.04 since it's more recent than OpenSUSE and can properly support the built-in wi-fi, sound and video card capability.

The Ubuntu 13.04 is in no way flawless, and I've had my share of crashing applications, making me look forward to the next Long Term Support release in 2014, but these minor inconveniences aside, I can only look back on the past five to six months I used Windows 8 with comfort knowing I made a better choice using Linux. It was worth the ride using the latest Microsoft platform but Windows 8 and UEFI did themselves in, relegating themselves to a distant, dark past. And future.


  1. tits, does that come with a touch-screen monitor? how's the user experience?

    im thinking of buying a Dell laptop next month, but im staying away from preinstalled shit--and from Windows 8--i'd get at least one with a Linux or DOS (mas mura by a few thousand bucks), then reinstall a slipstreamed windows 7. im not sure about other people's experience, but ive been pretty happy with windows 7--the OS i installed on my desktop and netbook is now three years old, problem-free, and i use these machines everyday. considering the points you raised re windows 8, i think 7 is the best windows version i've used so far

    1. Hello JB, the laptop I bought doesn't have a touch-screen monitor, further adding to the pain. I did not discuss that since some laptops released with Win8 have touch-screen feature. If you're very happy with Win7, beware of Microsoft marketing hype over Win8 and stay with your current platform if you see no compelling reason to upgrade. The most likely reason you will upgrade is when you have or encounter an application that requires the latest Windows version. Thank you very much for visiting EDGEKIT and hope you can send feedback thru to further improve the site with relevant content that matters to you and colleagues.

  2. With regards to user experience, I think I better have that as a separate entry, I've been researching on user interface and user experience for some time now. Thanks again for the feedback :)