Windows 8–Not Quite Soup

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When my mom was making dinner, my brothers and I would stick our heads in the kitchen and ask if it was time to eat. My mother was what they used to call a “housewife” and she actually “cooked” stuff—not just assemble the parts out of a box. All too often she would tell us “It’s not soup yet,” when the food on the stove had not been sufficiently cooked. It might have smelled delicious and looked edible, but it took time to soften the beans and work the spicy flavors into the meat. She would know when it was ready, even if it took another hour to cook. We never starved. Her cooking was worth waiting for.

I’m afraid Windows 8 isn’t soup yet. I was as anxious as a hungry teen when it came to the official launch of Windows 8. I had heard so many stories about its marvels that I wanted to be one of the first to try it. No, I didn’t try the betas or “nearly ready” versions because I didn’t have the time to build up a separate system or a Hyper-V to host it. I’ve been working with pre-released software for too long to install it over a functioning OS. So I guess I must take part of the blame in Windows 8’s shortcomings.

As I said, I’ve been working with Windows for a long time—since Version 1 when it was delivered on floppies and ran as an application on top of DOS. That was in ‘86 when I first joined Microsoft and worked with the Windows Developer Liaison team. Windows has come a long way since then.

So what happened? Well, there’s a laundry-list of stuff that worked and didn’t work, but I’ll get to that. First consider that I know how complex operating systems can be. I’ve written new OSs, modified other company’s OSs and taught developers how to program to them. I’ve also installed early versions of every version of Windows since the early days—many, many times. Windows 8 is following the same pattern as all of the others. Too bad it seems more like Vista than Windows 3 or Windows 7.

If you don’t want to read the list of issues and just want my recommendation, here it is: Wait. Wait until SP1 comes out. By this time, the hardware and software companies that are still alive (they fall by the wayside faster than old runners in the Boston marathon) will have released updated Windows 8 drivers, application updates and patches so their stuff works. By that time Microsoft will have released Media Center and added a “What happened to my XXXX in Windows 7” help topic.

The Hardware

As a point of reference, my hardware platform is a i7 980x with 12GB of RAM, SSD drive and dual monitors being driven by a NVidia high-performance video card. The system profiles at 7.6 (it’s fast).

My references to the “unmetro” user interface address the copyright debacle caused by Microsoft’s inability to find a name that someone else isn’t using (again). Might I suggest “Google” before picking a name? I’ll just call it “UM” for reference sake.

Surprises and Disappointments

Here’s what I found (or didn’t find).

  • I have an MSDN license (thanks to the Microsoft MVP program) so I tried to access the site on August 15th—the first release date. Unfortunately, the site could not take the traffic and repeatedly crashed. The MSDN staff on the phone had no idea what was going on. Apparently, there were no Clouds in Redmond that day. I decided to get some lunch, and later in the day the site was working again. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing like success to bring a company (even as large as Microsoft) to its knees.
  • While I  waited, I did some research on the new versions. It looked like I wanted the “Enterprise” version. No, it’s not because I’m running a starship here, but it had some worthwhile features, and I hate it when you have invested months in an OS only to find that the feature you really need isn’t in that SKU.
  • I tried to upgrade my current Windows 7 Ultimate to Enterprise. Nope, no go. I hade to settle for the “Pro” version. Thankfully, this version was happy to overlay my existing Windows 7 system. And yes, I had done a full backup the previous day using Windows Backup. First mistake.
  • Once Win8 installed and settled down, I started getting lost in the new look and feel. The “unmetro” (UM) user interface (UI) was a big change. I discovered at once I had quick launch toolbars on both monitors. Not good. I use every bit of the second monitor for work. Icons and toolbars belong on the “primary” monitor. No work-around—minor irritation.
  • Discovering how to get the UM to work was helped by the (very brief) intro video. However, when clicking on the “Start” chicklet at the lower-left often triggered the application on the second row of the quick-launch toolbar. I’m not going to get started on the UI. I expect that I’ll get used to it in time. There are far more serious issues to discuss. And yes, I did discover a nice new Remote Desktop application. Intuitive, innovative and useful. But my gadgets were all gone—never to return. Not good.
  • I use this system for a variety of purposes. While my office apps still work, many of the others do not. These include my fingerprint reader, WinTV, Windows Media Center, my security camera apps, Camtasia Studio, SnagIt and Windows Backup. You can add about six gadgets to this list that I used heavily to give me real-time feedback on applications and OS performance. Strike 1. I use this system to record video from external cameras—none of which work with Windows 8.
  • Once the OS was installed, I immediately tried to get a “starting point” backup established. Unfortunately, there was no Windows Backup visible and no references to it in “Search”.  I did some research (on Google) and discovered it’s been replaced with new technology because “no one” was using Windows Backup. Isn’t that special. I’m someone, I use it. Silly me. I did find an old reference to “Windows 7 File Recovery”. And there it was. Dumb. So I didn’t want to overly my existing Win7 backup image so I told it to backup to a web server. After many (many) hours, (over a 1Ghz backbone to a dedicated file server), Windows 8 dropped the LAN. After repeated retries and resets, the only solution was to reboot and start over. Strike 2. I can’t have a system with an unstable LAN.
  • I also use “System Restore” to roll back the registry and other systems software when things go wrong as they invariably do in my work. There is no sign of this functionality. This is serious but I hope to work around it with other backup software.
  • I finally pulled the backup target drive and replaced it with a clean drive. I keep my backup drives on a USB3 drive carrier so they can be easily pulled for archival and emergencies. Unfortunately, the system would no longer boot without this drive in place. Strike 3. Saving critical boot information on external drives is unacceptable.
  • Throughout all of this I was constantly using Search to try to find out how to do stuff. Some of the time it helped by all too often it came up blank. “Gadgets” nothing. “Backup” nothing. Actually, that’s not true. “Backup” found an old copy of a Norton Ghost backup manual, but nothing from Microsoft. In frustration I typed “Help” and way down on the list was Microsoft’s help interface. Why isn’t Help and Support on the same top-level menu with Search? The problem we’re facing is the mountain of information, misinformation and rumor exposed by Bing and Google searches. Given the length of time Windows 8 has been in public beta, there is a landfill of articles out there—many of which are no longer applicable. This means that Microsoft needs to ensure that their system-resident help topics are the first point of information. And folks before you ship a product, expunge the “This stuff is preliminary” warnings. I was on the help team and it does not have to be this way.
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    My Plans

    Because of these serious issues and the host of not-so-serious-issues that I’ve discovered just in the last 48 hours, I’m going to have to take the following steps:

    Restore my Windows 7 system if I can. If I can’t, I plan to do a clean install of Windows 7 on this system. It will take a week to do, but I can’t have an unreliable system that’s not ready for production. Sure, a year from now, I might try again. By then the video hardware and software companies will probably have sorted out their Windows 8 issues. Until then, I’ll be sticking with Windows 7. It’s too important to me. I expect it is for you too.

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    This page contains a single entry by William Vaughn published on August 17, 2012 10:18 AM.

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