Wow, What a Surprise: Windows 8 Isn’t Horrible and the World Isn’t Going to End

On Friday, I installed Windows 8 Pro on my laptop. It’s late Monday night, and I have somehow managed to avoid succumbing to a don’t-call-it-Metro-induced psychosis. I even did work on my Windows 8 laptop this weekend, and it went just as it always does: fine.

Except, now my laptop is faster, the UI is prettier, and I have some new dedicated apps for stuff like Netflix, Skype, and Hulu. And a pretty news reader. And a native Google search app. It’s just horrible.

Oh, I’m sorry, the word I was actually looking for is better. Yes, Windows 8 is better than Windows 7. Stop the motherfucking presses.

If I sound a little jaded and upset, it’s because I am. It’s because I’ve listened to almost everyone who has chimed in on the topic in the last year absolutely blast Windows 8 as a productivity-destroying aesthetic nightmare that wants to tear to shreds your very soul. And now, after actually upgrading to it, and using it, I’m kind of upset at those people. Because what they said simply isn’t true.

All I’ve heard are the same Windows OS upgrade pitfalls regurgitated over and over: app compatibility will break, you’ll have to learn a bunch of new stuff, you’ll lose settings or files, and you have to (gasp) pay money for this annoying privilege. But you know what? None of those things happened. Except the money part. That happened. Otherwise, Microsoft did it right. Unbelievable.

My upgrade (in which I kept all of my – admittedly few – apps, settings, and files) went off without a hitch over the course of about 90 minutes. That’s from download, to install, to first login on the new OS. For Windows, that is record time. And what was broken? Pretty much nothing. I had to reinstall the ATI Catalyst Control Center, and uninstall some worthless Intel Bluetooth utility. Everything else, shockingly, worked.

And the new start menu center? Yeah, it’s designed for touch. And no, it’s not perfect. Lateral scrolling is totally FUBAR right now, and needs to be addressed for a non-touch interface. But I still like it – it’s extremely easy to visually parse, and the Windows key keyboard shortcuts make navigating between the desktop, start center, and my other running programs a breeze. Not to mention, Windows on the whole just looks hugely better.

You might even say it’s more user friendly. I certainly think it is.

Are the native apps there yet? Not really. You have Hulu, Netflix, Skype, Google Search, Internet Explorer, and a few other noteworthies. But they’ll get there. The Microsoft news reader app is absolutely beautiful, in all its full-screen glory. Oh, and my Google Calendars are integrated into a Windows 8 Calendar app that shows me events in its launch shortcut. That’s neat.

The new toast-style notifications (again, only native W8 apps) look great, and are exactly what Windows needed (I so, so miss Growl notifications on OS X).

And very importantly, I still have my fully functional desktop for when it comes down to actually doing work. It’s a hybrid OS, to be sure – between the new start center and the desktop. But that’s just what Microsoft needed. Windows has been so stale, so unchanged in its basic UX for so many years, and this finally bridges the gap between the second coming of modal computing and a traditional desktop. I think that’s very important to recognize. And Microsoft made it work. The back and fourth isn’t clunky. It isn’t unnatural. They’ve made living in both worlds pretty easy.

Switching between them is a simple keystroke: the Windows key (or Win+B). Even your grandparents can understand that.

Is it without significant flaws? Of course not. The app marketplace is pathetic. But millions of laptops and desktops and all-in-ones will ship with Windows 8 in the next year, and the 3rd party support will follow along dutifully. Navigating the new start center with a trackpad is less than great. And moving away from the start menu hasn’t been painless. But knowing that this is where Microsoft is starting from on release day makes me even more optimistic about Windows 8 – they can only go up from here. They’ll fix, add, and optimize. Only a handful of Windows releases can lay claim to a smooth launch, and I think this will be one of them.

So, say what you want about the “un-serious” look of not-Metro, the wastefulness of full-screen apps for productivity, or whatever. I’m quite happy to see Microsoft changing with the times, instead of clinging to 1995 unflinchingly as the world moves ahead without it. And after experiencing it myself, I don’t think the complaints about Windows 8 stem from the fact Microsoft has changed the platform, but that many of its users are afraid of change of any kind, regardless of the benefits. And that’s a little sad.

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