Windows 8 not intuitive; bring your patience

I’ve had Windows 8 for a couple of weeks now. My conclusion: Be ready to spend some time reading. And you’re in much better shape if you have a touchscreen.

For my money, Windows 8 is not nearly intuitive enough. From navigation to launching or closing programs, I found myself repeatedly scurrying to the web for directions on how to do basic tasks.

Blog PhotoA more patient user than I would have spent some time with tutorials and other online guides – of which there are plenty – before ever installing the software. If you’re thinking about the upgrade, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you check out some of the information online. Reading some of those will give you a pretty good idea of whether Windows 8 is for you. 

Here's a good starting place from Microsoft. And here's a post from Microsoft about the Start screen.

PCWorld magazine has individual entries about SkyDrive, the Photos app, Music app and the Mail and Calendar apps.

I had one problem specific to my machine: I installed the Windows 8 Upgrade version over Windows XP Tablet Edition on a Fujitsu tablet PC that uses a pen as a pointing device. The PC has hardware buttons on the case – for “Fn,” “Esc,” “Enter” and screen rotation among others – but no hardware keyboard. The Windows 8 upgrade adviser warned me that I would lose those buttons, and I did. I tried reinstalling drivers from Fujitsu’s website without success. And my machine is old enough that I don’t see a download becoming available to fix that problem. I can live with that problem, especially because I’d been warned (and because this is a computer I don’t use as my main machine).

Windows 8’s two interfaces provide more confusion than necessary, at least for me.

In some cases, things are crystal clear: From the Start screen – the touch-driven group of boxes you’ve seen in all the ads – it’s dead simple to launch an app. You tap it or click it, and it’s up and running. You won’t see a “close” button, though: Windows 8 leaves Start screen apps running in the background and “eventually” closes them, Microsoft says.Blog Photo

But there’s nothing overt to tell you that if you hover your mouse over the upper or lower left hand corner of the Start screen you’ll get your previously used apps, or that if you hover over either right corner you’ll get the “charms” popup, a vertical taskbar to help you interact with the apps – including search, share, devices (printers and so on) and settings.

One of the pre-installed “apps” is the desktop. Tap it, and you go to a more classic Windows interface, very much like the Windows 7. Problem is, there’s no “start” button. You can download an app that will install one, and for that matter, you can navigate to programs or files from the taskbar if you stumble upon the link that takes you there. I’m not sure the start button was broken, so I don’t understand why that was left off in the first place.

There are some positives. The Start screen apps work well and quickly. I’d read that my machine would run faster, and it seems as though it does. While there aren’t many apps in the Store yet, I was able to find several to take for a spin. The free version of OneNote in particular is very good. The onscreen keyboard offers choices and is a distinct upgrade from the Windows XP version. Upgrading from Windows XP or Windows 7 remains a pretty cheap proposition -- $39.99 through Jan. 31 for Windows 8 Pro as a download.

And to me, one thing seems clear: Windows 8 is the direction desktop and laptop machines will go. You may not need or want Windows 8, but as phones and tablets – especially tablets – become the way we do more of our work, this is the sort of operating system they’ll use.

As I was exploring,  I kept wishing my tablet PC was a true tablet, with all the touch-enabled gestures of my Android tablet or phone, for instance. I got a bit close with a wireless touchpad I found on clearance, and its more expensive big brother that I’ve been testing – more on that to come.

If you’ve had Windows 8 running on a truly touch-capable environment – with the Surface tablet or some other device – I’d be interested in how you like it.

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